By Roy Mabasa
The “deliberate and nuanced diplomacy” espoused by the Duterte Administration on the South China Sea issue had helped ease tensions, resulted in economic gains and opened the potential to explore oil and gas in the area.
This was the position conveyed by a delegation of senior Philippine officials during their high-level discussions with outgoing United States Pacific Command (PACOM) chief Admiral Harry Harris, Jr. in Hawaii on Saturday (Sunday morning in Manila).
“On the South China Sea, the Philippine delegation underscored that the deliberate and nuanced diplomacy by the Duterte Administration had lowered tensions in the region and resulted in clear economic gains for the Philippines in terms of access to marine resources, protection of the marine ecology, and the potential to explore oil and gas resources,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
It said that the high-level delegation led by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea had productive discussions on critical regional and international issues with Harris and the commanders of all PACOM service components.
Also in the meeting, officials from the two countries reaffirmed their firm resolve to bolster their enduring alliance anchored on common values and interest, historic ties and the Mutual Defense Treaty.
“The Philippine delegation had a very substantive exchange with Admiral Harris on regional challenges and both sides agreed that the alliance remains consequential to the preservation of regional stability and development,” the foreign affairs office said.
Aside from Medialdea, also in the delegation were Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Interior and Local Government OIC-Secretary Eduardo M. Año, Foreign Affairs chief Alan Peter Cayetano, Philippine Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez, and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Teodoro Locsin Jr.
While Harris congratulated the Philippines on its decisive victory in the Marawi siege, the Philippine delegation expressed its gratitude for Washington’s “strong support” which it said was instrumental in the successful campaign against the militants.
The DFA said both sides agreed on the need to work more closely together, including in the exchange of information, in the fight against terrorism and in countering violent extremism.
Harris has led the PACOM since May 2015 and has actively worked to strengthen Philippine-US security relations including through his role as the co-chair of the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board.
The PACOM commander visited the Philippines in August last year and met with President Duterte at Malacañan where they discussed U.S. support to the Philippine government’s efforts to end the Marawi conflict, interoperability between the Philippines-U.S. two militaries, and other regional threats.
The White House earlier announced the appointment of Harris as the next US Ambassador to South Korea upon his retirement next month
He was recently conferred with the Philippine Legion of Honor, the order of defense merit of the Philippines, for his role in promoting defense cooperation between the two countries.