Restrengthening the US-PH alliance

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

The emergence of various security threats and the growing importance of multilateralism and strategic partnerships are shaping the power dynamics and the overall security architecture in the Indo-Pacific region.

As more states turn their attention toward the Indo-Pacific, security partnerships such as the newly launched AUKUS alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have become more relevant in advancing cooperation between like-minded states in the region. The AUKUS security partnership, in particular, will facilitate the integration of security and defense-related technology, industrial bases, and supply chains between the three countries to promote stability and their shared interests in the region.

Given these developments, countries like the Philippines should reassess their position in order to safeguard and uphold their national security and other strategic interests. From a security perspective, this requires adjustments in terms of policy direction, alliances, and armed forces modernization.

In the coming 2022 national elections, the Philippines has an opportunity to rethink its national security strategy and build better from the defeatist and erratic foreign policy initiatives of the Duterte administration. The new administration will also have a chance to renew its commitment with trusted traditional allies such as the United States.

Our relationship with the US has been greatly affected by President Duterte’s pivot toward China. Since the Duterte administration came to power in 2016, it has challenged the very foundations of the US-Philippines alliance. Mr. Duterte has expressed several times his intent to terminate both the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca).

Vital to the security initiatives of the US in the region, the VFA is an agreement between the two countries to complement the earlier Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) that was established to provide mutual support in case of an external armed attack. It is also necessary for the implementation of Edca, which the US negotiated to help strengthen the Philippines’ capability to respond to terrorism and other security threats.

Despite these challenges, the US-Philippines alliance has continued to endure. Honoring the 70th anniversary of the MDT, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III met at the Pentagon last Sept. 10. Both officials reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate and further enhance the defense relations between the two countries.

That same day, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. met with US State Secretary Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington. They exchanged views on COVID-19 vaccination initiatives, human rights, and respect for international law in the South China Sea. Blinken emphasized that a strong US-Philippines alliance is an important anchor for US leadership in the region and crucial to ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Given the security risks arising from the growing political and military power of China, efforts should be focused on the further consolidation of the US-Philippines alliance. The Philippines must ensure that it contributes to the nurturing of the alliance in accordance with the MDT. Although the majority of the Filipino public trusts the United States, the reservations and issues brought up by the Duterte administration regarding the alliance must be addressed. There is also a need to revisit the terms of the MDT and other agreements with other allies and partners, especially since the current regional security context has become more dynamic and complicated.

The leaders of the next administration should leverage the region’s network of like-minded states, including Japan, Australia, and India, to forge new areas for multilateral cooperation. Restrengthening the US-Philippines alliance will send a strong message against China’s continuing aggression, and further consolidate an intercontinental alliance of nations committed to uphold the rule of law and maritime peace in the region.

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Image Source: Rolex dela Pena/Pool Photo via AP.

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