The Philippines and the United States have reaffirmed their defense and security cooperation to ensure national and regional security amid a coronavirus pandemic.
“Our alliance should continue to provide the mechanism to further enhance our already robust defense cooperation by pursuing capability-building initiatives for our interoperability,” General Gilbert I. Gapay, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said in a joint statement on Friday.
“The AFP envisions our alliance to continue with mutually beneficial activities that will result in greater interoperability between our armed forces,” he added.
Rival Southeast Asian claimant nations and the US have criticized China’s recent assertive moves in the South China Sea as the world battles the coronavirus pandemic.
China claims sovereignty over more than 80% of the waterway based on its so-called nine-dash line drawn on a 1940s map. It has been building artificial islands in the disputed Spratlys and setting up installations including several runways.
In May, three American aircraft carriers were seen patrolling the Indo-Pacific waters for the first time in nearly three years, a massive show of naval force in a region roiled by spiking tensions between the US and China.
Mr. Gapay and Admiral Philip Davidson, commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command on Thursday attended a virtual meeting of the 2020 Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board. The meeting was the first conducted since the pandemic.
“The United States and the Philippines remain steadfast allies in our pursuit of regional peace and stability,” Mr. Davidson said in the statement.
“Our close cooperation ensures our forces are interoperable and a formidable force for stability throughout the region while further strengthening the ties that make us such close friends, allies and partners,” he added.
Some US lawmakers in September filed a measure that will suspend police and military aid to the Philippines after the latter expanded terror crimes under a new law.
The Philippines is also studying a plan to terminate its visiting forces agreement with the US after the US Embassy canceled the visa of Senator Ronald M. dela Rosa, President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s former police chief.
The government suspended the termination in June for six months due to the pandemic. The suspension may be extended for six more months.
Mr. Gapay and Mr. Davidson discussed efforts on counter-terrorism, humanitarian and disaster assistance, according to the statement.
The US government has extended more than P1 billion worth of assistance to the Philippine government to help it fight the coronavirus pandemic, it added. — Charmaine A. Tadalan