MANILA - Visiting US National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien on Monday gave the assurance that the Philippines has the support of the United States whatever happens politically in his home country, as he also called on China to abide by the 2016 arbitral ruling on the South China Sea.
"We’ve got your back, we’re here. And whatever happens with our domestic politics in the United States, this is a critical alliance for us. And we’re gonna be here to support the Philippines, irrespective of what happens politically in America," O'Brien said.
Speaking to reporters, O’Brien echoed US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s assurance that any armed attack against Philippine forces in the South China Sea will trigger the enforcement of relevant provisions in the two countries' Mutual Defense Treaty.
O’Brien called out the world's second biggest economy for its aggressive behavior in the region, stressing that resources within the Philippine EEZ should be enjoyed by Filipinos.
But he clarified the US does not want war with China.
“We think that arbitral ruling that was given by an impartial body, international body of jurists, must be respected by all the parties. And so that’s what we’re calling on China and all of the parties
in the region to do,” O’Brien said.
After meetings over lunch with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr., Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, O’Brien laid a wreath at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Taguig City to honor the World War II dead.
He also announced that the USAID is providing $3.5 million through the United Nations fundraising pledge effort to assist victims of the recent typhoons in the Philippines with clean drinking water, shelter and medical attention.
“We have an ongoing relationship where we help each other during times of need And this is certainly one of those times that our condolences and the President’s condolences go out to those who have suffered as a result of these natural disasters,” O’Brien said.
He welcomed the extension of the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement, attributing it to the warm relationship of Presidents Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte and the strong alliance of the two countries.
“We’d obviously want to see that longer. And that’s something I spoke with Secretary Locsin about, is if we’d extend it a further period of time so that we could have some negotiations to address the important concerns on both sides of that treaty and that agreement, and not be up against an artificial deadline. So we’re grateful for the additional six months," the US official said.
"I think it would be better if it was a year or longer. But we’ll have to wait and see. That’s ultimately the decision for the government of the Philippines,” he added.
While O’Brien said that the issue of human rights in the Philippines was raised, he wants military aid for the Philippines to continue.
He stressed that human rights can be discussed respectfully.
“Those are important values to us as Americans. We always raise them with our partners. We will continue to raise them here in the Philippines. But we are also confident in the Philippines. It’s a great democracy, it’s got great leadership," O'Brien said.
"The Philippines military is engaged in a tough fight against among others jihadist and Islamist terrorists, and we will continue to engage with the Philippines in that fight,” he said when asked about a proposed US legislation to stop military aid because of alleged human rights violations by the Duterte administration.
Despite a sensitive time in US domestic politics, Trump gave the go-signal for O’Brien to visit the Philippines, citing the importance of the alliance, the visiting official said.
“He (President Trump) said, ‘Listen, this is so important to us. This relationship with the Philippines is important. The extension of the Visiting Forces Agreement is important. Providing the Philippines with the ammunition it needs is important So, go.’ He’s got a great relationship with President Duterte,” O’Brien shared.
O’Brien stopped by Japan and Vietnam before visiting Manila where he turned over a package of US defense articles for the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“We’re here to let the people in Asia know, and especially let our close friends like the Philippines know America is not leaving," he said.
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