MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. met with America’s top diplomat, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on Saturday, August 6, as the two countries seek to reinforce ties amid increased tensions in the region.
The meeting, held in Malacañang at around 9:30 am, saw the long-time allies give assurance that relations between Manila and Washington were “extraordinary” and “important.” Blinken is the highest highest-ranking U.S. official to travel to the Philippines so far, after Marcos assumed the presidency on June 30.
In brief opening remarks, Marcos cited recent developments including the Ukraine invasion and US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan earlier this week, which had prompted China to take retaliatory military exercises around the self-governing island it claimed as its own.
“To be perfectly candid, I did not think it raised the intensity, it just demonstrated it – how the intensity of that conflict has been. It actually has been at that level for a good while, but we got used to it and put it aside,” Marcos said, referring to Pelosi’s visit.
“This just demonstrates how volatile the international diplomatic scene is not only in the region,” the Philippine leader added. “So again, this just points to the fact of the importance of the relationship between the United States and the Philippines. I hope that we will continue to evolve that relationship in the face of all the changes we have been seeing.”
Blinken, meanwhile, assured the Philippines that the US was committed to the two countries’ defense pact, which sees both countries commit to defend one another in case of an attack. “We’re committed to the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). We’re committed to working with you on shared challenges,” he said.
Marcos, who considered the 1951 PH-US MDT to be “in constant evolution,” said the Philippines and US “can no longer isolate one part of our relationship from the other.”
In a virtual meeting with Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, Blinken said the US was likewise determined to avoid a crisis and stressed that relations between Washington and Manila have never been more important.
Manalo told Blinken, “We can ill afford any escalation of tensions in the region.”
Blinken, for his part, said peace and security was a challenge the US had to deal with everywhere, but it is “determined to act responsibly, so that we avoid crisis; we avoid conflict.”
Manalo later described the US as a “dear friend” and listed a roster of activities that sought high-level engagement between the two countries, including a possible meeting between Marcos and US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in New York, and a possible visit by Marcos to Washington DC should schedules allow. Apart from this, both parties also agreed to reconvene their 2+2 security and foreign affairs dialogue in early 2023.
Speaking to reporters, Blinken said the US again outlined that “an armed attack on Philippines’ armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments under that (Mutual Defense) treaty.”
During the meeting between Marcos and Blinken, the US official added the Biden administration looked forward to working with the Philippines to boost economic ties, a particular priority for Marcos as he seeks to rehabilitate the country’s economy battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The meeting between Philippine leader and the US’ top diplomat is in line with US efforts to demonstrate its commitment to the Philippines, its oldest ally in the region, after relations had been strained under the Rodrigo Duterte administration. The Philippines is likewise a key country in its global competition with China.
Despite this, the US faces unique challenges with a Marcos presidency. Marcos is the son and namesake of the Philippines’ late dictator whose ouster on February 25, 1986, had been partly attributed to US intervention. The Philippine president also faces a contempt judgment in the US, which helped in cracking down on the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth.
Thirty six years later, Marcos welcomed Blinken in the same halls he was forced to flee as a young man aboard a US Air Force plane, saying: “We cannot, we can no longer isolate one part of our relationship from the other. We are too closely tied because of the special relationship between the United States and the Philippines and the history that we share.” – with reports from Reuters/Rappler.com