DEFENSE VISUAL INFORMATION DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM (DVIDS)/LANCE CPL. ISAIAH CAMPBELL

PRESUMPTIVE Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. on Monday said he discussed the country’s visiting forces agreement with the US during a visit by its chargé d’affaires at his headquarters near Manila, the capital.

Mr. Marcos said the Philippines and America will seek to redefine the military pact amid a changing landscape in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Security concerns, of course, have been a big part of our relationship with the United States,” he said. “We would welcome any assistance for the economy that we can get from the US. Trade, not aid.”

US Chargé d’Affaires Heather Variava, Indian Ambassador Shambhu S. Kumaran, Japanese Ambassador Kazuhiko Koshikawa and South Korean Ambassador Kim Inchul paid Mr. Marcos a courtesy call.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte had suspended the visiting forces agreement as part of his so-called pivot to China.

Policy experts have criticized the late dictator’s son for allegedly parroting China’s mantra in its sea dispute with the Philippines. They expect Mr. Marcos to continue Mr. Duterte’s pivot.

Mr. Marcos said the South Korean envoy had offered to assess the condition of a mothballed nuclear power plant in Bataan province in northern Philippines that was built during his father’s rule. “We will study their recommendations and findings,” he said.

He also said he tackled aid projects with Japan and microfinance with India.

Meanwhile, India’s Mr. Kumaran told a separate briefing his country is committed to boost the Philippines’ Defense department and help develop its pharmaceutical industry.

“India would like to work with the Philippines towards capacity-building and capability development of the Philippine Armed Forces,” the envoy said.  

“There are potential areas where Indian companies can work closely with the Philippine Armed Forces and Defense department,” he said, citing the military’s modernization program started by the late President Benigno S.C. Aquino III.

Mr. Kumaran said India, a pharmaceutical powerhouse, would also work with the Philippines to boost its own sector.

“The president-elect was very keen to see domestic manufacturing of pharmaceutical products,” he said. “Indian companies are looking forward to strong engagement and I think in the new administration, we will carry forward the dialogue with the view to creating domestic capacities in the Pharma sector to contribute to the health security of the Philippines.”

The Philippines, which does not make its own coronavirus vaccines, had struggled to secure shots at the start of the pandemic.

Mr. Kumaran said the South China Sea dispute had not been discussed during the meeting. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza