Senior Philippine and US military officials are scheduled to meet in the coming days in Manila to discuss assistance programs and large-scale exercises, US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson said Monday.
In her speech during the commissioning ceremony of two Philippine Navy patrol vessels, Carlson said the meeting is part of the annual Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) activity.
The US ambassador said the meeting is intended to set “a course of action through assistance programs, large-scale exercises, and hundreds of smaller exchanges between our two militaries.”
She said these engagements will help strengthen the US-Philippine alliance, build trust, and enhance interoperability for the protection of the two allied countries.
“As (United States) Vice President Kamala Harris emphasized in her meeting with [President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.] just last week in Jakarta, American support for the US-Philippine Alliance remains ironclad,” she said.
Marcos’ meeting with Harris took place on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia last week.
The White House said the meeting would build on US President Joe Biden and Harris’ meetings with Marcos in Washington in May 2023 and the Vice President’s visit to the Philippines in November 2022.
“The two leaders discussed the maritime security environment in the South China Sea, and reviewed opportunities to enhance bilateral maritime cooperation, including alongside like-minded partners,” the White House said.
Two refurbished American navy vessels that joined the Philippine fleet on Monday will bring “real” and “strategic” benefits not only to the country but also to its alliance with the United States and to the region, Carlson said.
During the christening and commissioning of BRP Valentin Diaz and BRP Ladislao Diwa, both Alvarez-class patrol vessels, Carlson said the boats were entering into service “at an important time when the maritime security environment in the Indo-Pacific is increasingly complex.”
She noted that amid China’s aggression in the South China Sea, Manila and Washington have committed to upholding rules-based order and deterring actions that will undermine peace and stability in the region.
Carlson said the mission that the vessels will undertake will not be easy as they will patrol the Philippine waters, protect legitimate economic activities, fight against illegal fishing, and deliver human assistance and disaster relief.
“I commend the brave sailors who serve aboard them. Their dedicated service and the missions they undertake are central to the shared US-Philippine goal of ensuring a free, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region,” Carlson said.
Carlson said the transfer of the ships from the US Navy to its Philippine counterpart “has much more than symbolic value.”
The US diplomat stressed that it symbolized America’s continued support for the Philippine Navy, which is on the frontline of defending the country’s sovereign rights in the South China Sea, particularly over the West Philippine Sea.
“This commissioning is also the latest illustration of our continued collaboration in pursuit of the modernization goals of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The Philippines is the largest recipient of US military assistance in the Indo-Pacific, merited by the ambitious agenda we have set together for our alliance,” Carlson said.
Valentin Diaz and Ladislao Diwa have been commissioned to join the Philippine Navy’s fleet through US military financing worth P780 million ($13.8 million).
“As the Philippines continues its courageous stand to uphold the international order and defend its rights in the West Philippine Sea, rest assured the United States stands with you in this all-important endeavor,” Carlson said.
Previously named USS Monsoon and USS Chinook, Valentin Diaz and Ladislao Diwa used to patrol the waters of the Arabian Gulf in support of operations in the Middle East, including Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
“These two vessels have a significant history of service at the forefront of operations for the United States Navy,” Carlon said. “After refurbishment through US funding, they are now ready to join the Philippine Navy Littoral Combat Fleet.”
The US envoy said Manila and Washington have now “come together to reflect on the ways in which the BRP Valentin Diaz and BRP Ladislao Diwa will protect and defend the Philippines and strengthen our alliance.”
“And that is something very much worth celebrating,” she said.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro called the actions of China against Philippine vessels “irresponsible” during the recent resupply mission of the Philippines to BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.
“The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels were once again dangerously harassed,” Teodoro said on the sidelines of the commissioning ceremony.
“This is to me irresponsible behavior on the part of the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and I think that the world knows who is in the right here so it does need much more saying or talking about. The world has reacted before to the water cannoning,” he added.
While the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) did not use water against the Philippine vessels this time, Teodoro pointed out that the Chinese vessels performed more dangerous maneuvers.
The actions of Chinese vessels were a violation of maritime safety, he added.
On Friday, Chinese coast guard and military militia vessels again maneuvered dangerously against Philippine ships in the recent resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal, the National Task Force West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said.
Beijing, on the other hand, expressed its firm opposition to the Philippines’ latest resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal, which it claims and calls Ren’ai Reef.
The CCG said two replenishment ships and two PCG vessels entered the shoal’s vicinity waters “without the permission of the Chinese government” and transported construction materials to the BRP Sierra Madre.
“China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands, including the Ren’ai Reef, and its adjacent waters, and firmly opposes the illegal transportation of construction materials by the Philippines to the illegally grounded warship,” it said.
The CCG said it strictly warned, tracked, monitored, and “effectively regulated” the Philippine vessels.
“The CCG will continue to carry out law enforcement activities in the sea areas under China’s jurisdiction according to law,” it said.
This was the third resupply mission after the Aug. 5 incident where the Chinese coast guard vessel used water cannons against the Philippine ship.
Another resupply mission was conducted and completed on Aug. 22.
The BRP Sierra Madre has been grounded at the Ayungin Shoal since 1999, which since then is manned by more than a dozen marines and sailors, and has become a symbol of Philippine sovereignty in the offshore territory.
Ayungin Shoal is part of the Kalayaan Island Group, which is an integral part of the Philippines, as well as the country’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. — Rey E. Requejo and Vince Lopez
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