May 3, 2023
MANILA — The United States has taken more concrete steps in showing its resolve to help the Philippines defend its territory in the South China Sea by providing military vessels and aircraft to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The military aid, worth millions of dollars, was among the agreements that the two countries entered into during the meeting between President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and US President Joe Biden at the White House on Monday (early Tuesday in Manila).
In a brief message before their bilateral meeting at the Oval Office, Biden acknowledged Marcos’ efforts to reinvigorate the diplomatic relations between the longtime military allies, which were frozen during the previous administration of Rodrigo Duterte.
“The United States… remains ironclad in our commitment to the defense of the Philippines, including the South China Sea, and we’re going to continue to support the Philippines’ military modernization goals,” Biden told the visiting Philippine leader.
“When we met in New York last year, you told me that strong alliance has to continue… ‘to evolve as we face the challenges of this new century.’ And we are facing new challenges. And I can’t think of any better partner to have than you,” he said, quoting Marcos’ previous statement. “And I’m optimistic things will get even better.”
The excess defense articles, likely part of a grant, include two Island-class patrol vessels, two Protector-class patrol vessels, and three C-130H transport aircraft.
These are on top of the two Cyclone-class patrol vessels transferred to the Philippines in late March and are on their way to Manila.
The 110-foot Island-class patrol boats used by the US Coast Guard have a range of more than 6,400 kilometers and can stay five days at sea without replenishment.
The smaller Protector-class vessels, also used by the USCG, are 87-foot vessels with a range of 1,400 kilometers.
The C-130Hs, meanwhile, are the Philippine Air Force’s biggest transport aircraft in its inventory.
Responding to Biden’s remarks, Marcos expressed his gratitude to the American leader for hosting him at the White House, which he last visited in 1982 during a meeting between his late father and namesake, then President Ferdinand Marcos Sr., and then US President Ronald Reagan.
“In the difficult times that we are facing ahead of us, we need to find many ways to strengthen our alliances and our partnerships in the face of the new economy that we are facing post-pandemic,” Marcos said.
Biden will also send a Presidential Trade and Investment Mission to the Philippines to enhance investment in clean energy transition, the critical minerals sector, and food security, as well as look into establishing trilateral cooperation with Japan and Australia.
The two countries will likewise co-host in Manila the 2024 Indo-Pacific Business Forum, the marquee US commercial event in the region, which will further establish the Philippines as a key hub for regional supply chains.
In addition, the White House said the US was already coordinating with the communities within the four new locations under the Philippines’ Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) with the US “to fully realize their positive value for local development and for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”
Washington and Manila likewise agreed to come up with “Bilateral Defense Guidelines” aimed at institutionalizing “key bilateral priorities, mechanisms and processes to deepen alliance cooperation, and interoperability across land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace,” the White House said.
It will be released on Wednesday during the visit of President Marcos to the Pentagon, according to a US embassy official.
“It’s a policy document and we have it with other important alliances, for example with Japan, in which both governments articulate why we have this alliance.
It’s a useful way to lay out… what are the contemporary challenges that we face, what are the mechanisms we use to manage it and to lay out shared priorities going forward,” US embassy political counselor Brett Blackshaw said in a forum hosted by Stratbase ADR on Tuesday.
“There is no dramatic new initiative in the text itself,” he said.
He also clarified that should tensions over Taiwan erupt, the Philippines is not immediately obligated to participate in the possible warfare despite the defense treaty with the US.
Blackshaw explained that the treaty would still require “high-level processes and consultations” between the US and the Philippines.