Aquino returns home Sunday with assurances of MDT help

June 10, 2012 1:48 pm 

By Gloria Jane Baylon

MANILA, June 9 — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Saturday said that President Benigno S. Aquino III is returning to Manila on Sunday from a three-day trip to the United States with the highest-level assurances of Washington’s commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty MDT).

In what the DFA also described as an “enormous success,” Aquino’s meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on Friday marked assurances of support to ongoing efforts to improve the Philippines’ external defenses.

“President Aquino just ushered in a new era in our bilateral relations by successfully laying the foundation for our new strategic partnership with the United States,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario said.

In a statement about the White House meeting, “President Obama reaffirmed the US Government’s support for Philippine efforts to build a minimum credible defense posture, as evidenced by our transfer of a second US Coast Guard Cutter to the Philippine Navy, support for the Philippine National Coast Watch System, and the growing number of bilateral exercises and training programs.”

”The White House said both leaders also agreed to build on the success of the joint counter terrorism efforts by looking into how the two countries could further enhance their cooperation in such areas as humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, maritime security, and maritime domain awareness.

”Aquino also briefed President Obama on developments in the West Philippine Sea and received support for his efforts to defuse the tension and seek a diplomatic solution to the impasse at Bajo de Masinloc.

”The White House said President Obama also conveyed his support for the ongoing efforts within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to reach an agreement with China on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea that creates a rules-based framework for managing and regulating the conduct of parties, including preventing and managing disputes.

In remarks to the press shortly after the meeting, President Obama said he and President Aquino discussed how Washington and Manila “can continue to consult closely together, to engage in training together, work on a range of regional issues together.”

“We discussed not only military and economic issues, but also regional issues, for example, trying to make sure that we have a strong set of international norms and rules governing maritime disputes in the region,” Obama added.

Philippine Ambassador to the United States, Jose L. Cuisia Jr., who was present during the White House meeting, said President Obama’s position on the West Philippine Sea followed similar statements made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the lunch she hosted for President Aquino also on Friday.

“The United States does not take a position on the competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. But we do, however, have a clear interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, freedom of navigation, respect for international law, and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea,” Clinton told more than 200 guests that included US diplomats and legislators and prominent Filipino-Americans.

“In this context, we welcome the initial steps to defuse tensions surrounding the Scarborough Reef taken by President Aquino. And we encourage continued diplomatic dialogue and further efforts to lessen tension, to disengage, and to resolve the situation peacefully,” she said.

”The United States has been consistent in that we oppose the use of force or coercion by any claimant to advance its claims, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely. We also call on ASEAN and China to conclude their efforts to reach consensus on a code of conduct for the South China Sea,” Clinton said.

Del Rosario said US support for the National Coast Watch System, which was announced during the luncheon hosted by Secretary Clinton, will come in the form of intelligence exchanges on maritime domain issues and funding for the construction of the National Coast Watch Center as well as equipment and training.

The establishment of the National Coast Watch Center is vital in securing the territorial integrity, ensuring the maritime security and protecting the maritime resources of an archipelagic country with a 36,000-kilometer coastline like the Philippines, del Rosario said.

“The National Coast Watch Center, which is a concrete realization of President Aquino’s directive, will enable us to know what is happening in our maritime territory on a 24-hour basis,” he added, referring to Executive Order 57 signed by the President in September,.”

Just last week, the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling for increased defense and security cooperation with the Philippines.

Cuisia said that Senate Resolution 481, sponsored by Senator Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana), calls for increased cooperation and enhanced bilateral security ties between the two countries, including support for Philippine defense modernization, the rotational presence of US forces and increased humanitarian and disaster relief preparedness activities.

For his consistent support of the Philippines, Lugar was awarded the Order of Lakandula by Aquino.

The Resolution also urged Washington to continue efforts to assist Manila in the areas of maritime security, maritime domain awareness, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and related communications infrastructure to enable enhanced information sharing and overall military professionalism.

The resolution also underscored the shared interest of the two countries “in maintaining freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful commerce and transit of people across the seas and subscribe to a rules-based approach in resolving competing claims in maritime areas through peaceful, collaborative, multilateral and diplomatic processes within the framework of international law.”

“The US Senate confirms the alliance’s centrality and enduring value as one of the key pillars of peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and as a key tool in addressing the emerging security environment in the region,” the resolution read.

The resolution also called on Manila and Washington to continue high-level consultations. (PNA) DCT/CTB/GJB

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