December 2, 2022

(UPDATE) THE United States has an “unwavering” commitment to the Philippines, US Vice President Kamala Harris said Monday during her meeting with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Malacañang.

“We stand with you in defense of international rules and norms as it relates to the South China Sea,” she told Marcos.

“An attack on the Philippine armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke the US mutual defense commitment… that is our unwavering commitment to the Philippines,” Harris said.

The vice president is the highest-ranking American official to visit Manila since Marcos took power in June, signaling a growing rapport between the longtime allies after years of frayed relations under his Beijing-friendly predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.

She reiterated that the alliance between the United States and the Philippines “is a strong and enduring one.” “When we think about what is happening in this region, we know that there are so many opportunities for us to continue to strengthen our relationship, that the basis of our relationship is based on mutual commitments to international rules and norms and upholding those international rules and norms in all the ways that we know allow for again prosperity and security for our respective nations in the region,” she said.

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Harris also met with her Philippine counterpart, Sara Duterte.

Marcos said he did not “see a future for the Philippines that does not include the United States.”

The US has a long and complex relationship with the Philippines — and the Marcos family. Marcos’ father was president for two decades, and Washington valued him as a reliable ally during the Cold War.

Relations between the two countries soured under Duterte.

In 2016, Duterte called US President Barack Obama a “son of a whore” over warnings he would be questioned by the US over his controversial drug war.

Washington is now seeking to firm up its security alliance with Manila under the new president.

That includes a mutual defense treaty and a 2014 pact, known by the acronym EDCA, which allows for the US military to store defense equipment and supplies on five Philippine bases.

It also allows US troops to rotate through those military bases.

EDCA stalled under Duterte, but the US and the Philippines have expressed support for accelerating its implementation as China becomes increasingly assertive.

On Tuesday, Harris will visit Palawan, which lies along the disputed waters in the South China Sea.

While in Manila, Harris is set to launch a wide range of initiatives to strengthen the bilateral ties between Washington and Manila, including a “123 agreement” negotiation for civil nuclear energy cooperation in the Philippines.

A White House senior administration official said in a background briefing that the Philippines “is interested in partnering with us on small modular reactors and other advanced technology.”

“So the Vice President will announce that our countries are initiating negotiations on a ‘123 Agreement,’ an agreement that will allow for civil nuclear cooperation,” the official said.

“And once in force, this agreement will allow US companies to export nuclear equipment, creating significant new commercial opportunities for our private sector. And, of course, this will also help the Philippines develop its energy security and transition to clean energy,” he said.

During their face to face, the President pointed out that with the ever-changing geopolitical landscape, especially in the Pacific, the collaboration between the Philippines and US “is something that both countries have really come to depend upon.”

“With more upheavals that we are seeing not only in the region … these partnerships also become even more important … we must evolve to be properly responsive to that situation,” Marcos said.

He reiterated that he does not see “a future for the Philippines that does not include the United States,” given the “very long relationship that we have had with the US.”

“In the economic sense, in the political sense, defense, security, you cannot think of an area where we have not cooperated, collaborated, and have had good results for both our countries,” Marcos said.

Harris assured of her government’s continuing commitment to the Philippines, a “multifaceted” relationship “based on mutual commitment to the economic prosperity of the region and our respective nations.”

“We will talk more about what that means in terms of opportunities that are presented through our mutual concern about the climate crisis and what we might do in terms of investments in renewable energy and thinking about clean power and the industries that will come about because of that commitment and what that will mean in terms of economic prosperity through the creation of jobs, the creation of industries, and the bilateral relationship we have to coordinate in that regard,” she noted.

The White House, meanwhile, noted that the US government has come up with measures to promote health care for veterans.

It noted that in August, US President Joe Biden signed the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (Pact) Act, a historic law that expands health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances and provides generations of veterans and their families with the care and benefits they have earned and deserve.

“The US Department of Veterans Affairs is ensuring Filipino veterans of the US military, and their families, can benefit from the Pact Act, including by launching a Tagalog-language version of the Pact Act claims portal,” the White House said.