Ongoing Balikatan exercises strengthening US-PH relations, says PHL Ambassador to US
(Eagle News) – The Philippines and the United States have further strengthened its defense relations with the Balikatan exercises amid the country’s problem with China’s continued incursions in the West Philippine Sea. In fact, the United States had recently sent one of its aircraft carriers, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, to accompany the Philippine Navy ships in patrolling the country’s waters as part of the Balikatan exercises, said Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez in an interview with the Eagle News Service program, Balitalakayan, on Monday, April 19.
The Philippines and US troops started its Balikatan exercises last week.
“Itong ating relasyon sa America very tight, and they are watching very carefully lahat ng nangyayari sa West Philippine Sea,” he said in the interview with Balitalakayan.
Ambassador Romualdez said that the Balikayan exercises is an example of how the US and the Philippines’ armed forces are further strengthening their relationship amid the ongoing problems of the country with China in the West Philippine Sea.
“We’ve been working with them. Itong Balikatan exercises is an example na talagang tuloy tuloy ang ating Visiting Forces Agreement. Ini-strengthen natin relason natin lalo na ngayon nang nakaroon ng problem sa West Philippine Sea,” he said.
“In fact, nagpadala ang America ng USS Theodore Roosevelt, at nagsama ang ating mga Philippine Navy para magpatrol diyan sa area within our responsibility,” he said.
The ambassador said: “I think in the long run, we’ll have more exercises like this.”
-Continuing the VFA-
“We’re of course very hopeful that we will be able to extend the Visiting Forces Agreement,” he said in the Eagle News Service’ Balitalakayan interview on Monday.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt is an aircraft carrier of the US Navy which also conducting flight operations in the South China Sea to “preserve and protect a free and open Indo-Pacific Region.”
On April 7, the US Navy posted this video titled: “USS Theodore Roosevelt flight operations in the South China Sea.”
Ambassador Romualdez said that the Mutual Defense Treaty with the US would be triggered if China would attack any of the Philippine Navy ships patrolling the country’s waters, including those within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
When asked by Balitalakayan anchor Weng Dela Fuente if an attack by China on a Philippine fishing boat would trigger the treaty, he said, “That in a way is being discussed.”
“As I said, kung meron man sa ating mga fishing boats, now our Philippine Navy is patrolling sa area natin, at nagkaroon ng gulo at tinira ang ating navy boats, yan magti-trigger sa MDT,” he said.
Hopefully this wouldn’t happen, he said, since what the Philippines only wants is for China to leave the country’s EEZ. No one wants an escalation of hostilities.
“Hopefully di mangyayari yan. Kasi ang gusto lang natin ay umalis lang dito ang hindi dapat na nasa area natin, doon sa Philippine Economic Zone,” he said.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, all countries are very much concerned and focused on beating COVID-19 to reduce the number of infections and deaths.
-Lowering tensions in West PHL Sea-
What should be the focus right now is to lower the tensions being created by China in the West Philippine Sea, he said.
“I think the way we should look at this, lower the tension being created by China in the West Philippine Sea.”
The dialogue between US and China on the issue started in Alaska with the publicized meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi in March this year. Ambassador Romualdez said that hopefully such discussions would continue.
-Nations should unite to beat COVID-19-
“Dapat huwag magkaroon ng gulo dahil ang mundo naghihrap na sa COVID,” he said, adding that tensions in the West Philippine Sea would not be beneficial to any country.
Romualdez said that all nations should unite instead in beating the pandemic and getting herd immunity for 70 percent of the world’s population.
“Yan ang no. 1 problem natin ngayon sa mundo. Hindi yang nangyayari diyan sa West Philippine Sea,” he said.
In the end, the Ambassador also floated another VFA, a vaccine forces agreement, which the country needs right now.
‘Sabi ko nga sa mga kaibigan natin sa America, ang kailangan natin ay VFA – Vaccines Forces Agreement. Kailangan natin ng vaccines talaga,” he said.
(Eagle News Service)