PHL, US revitalize alliance with Locsin as foreign affairs chief

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. and United States Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo reaffirmed the US-Philippines alliance in a meeting on Thursday at the US Department of State in Washington D.C.

US Department of State Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino, in a statement on Thursday, said Mr. Pompeo reaffirmed US commitments under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

The two secretaries also discussed “ongoing efforts to address regional issues, such as the South China Sea, North Korea, and counterterrorism.”

“Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Locsin also explored opportunities to increase people-to-people ties between our two countries, our longstanding commitment to human rights, and our cooperation to strengthen the Philippines’ energy security,” Mr. Palladino said.

The 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty mandates both countries to support each other in case the Philippines or United States come under attack in the Pacific region.

This agreement has been cited in the South China Sea issue as to whether it will be enforced if Philippine troops or vessels are attacked in the disputed waters.

The Philippines has long depended on the US for military hardware and support.

For its part, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement on Friday that Mr. Locsin also expressed “Manila’s appreciation for the recent return of the Balangiga Bells.”

Mr. Locsin was accompanied by Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel G. Romualdez during the Washington D.C. meeting, according to the DFA.

International studies professor Renato C. De Castro of De La Salle University said the meeting was “a normal getting-to-know-you bilateral exchange,” given the recent appointment of Mr. Locsin to the Foreign Affairs portfolio.

“It’s just a normal getting-to-know-you bilateral exchange between Pompeo and the new Foreign Secretary. Binabasa lang din ng US kung paano ba si Locsin (The US is also assessing how Mr. Locsin works),” he said in a phone interview.

“I think he’s (Mr. Locsin) different, he’s mature. I don’t think he will not take the Chinese position en toto. He knows how to balance. His approach will be a more balanced, more nuanced foreign policy approach in contrast to the previous Foreign Secretary who was simply mouthing Chinese positions in a number of international issues,” he added.

He also noted that President Rodrigo R. Duterte could not ignore US-Philippines relations due to the alliances relating to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the strong people-to-people ties between the two countries.

“He’s accepting it for better or for worse. He’s accepting the fact that we have alliance (with the US) and he could not simply abrogate the alliance,” he said.

“We have a structured relationship with the (US) that makes it difficult for us to abrogate or break that alliance,” he added. — Camille A. Aguinaldo