By Roy Mabasa
The Philippines on Sunday paid tribute to United States Senator John McCain, saying the country “lost a true friend and champion with his passing.”
“We deeply mourn the death of Sen. John McCain, a true friend of the Philippines and one of our champions in the United States Congress,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in a statement
“The Filipino people extend their deepest condolences to Senator McCain’s family and to the people of the United States of America,” he said.
Cayetano noted that the Filipinos will remember the US senator from Arizona for translating America’s commitment into action and for playing a vital role in keeping the Philippines-US alliance “strong and capable to address current strategic challenges.”
“Senator McCain’s support for the Mindanao peace process also exemplified his humanitarian spirit and his lifelong dedication to the cause of peace and justice,” he said.
McCain in Manila
On January 17, 2012, McCain, along with four other US senators, visited the Philippines and met with then President Benigno Aquino III and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario where they discussed wide-range of issues, foremost of which were the freedom of navigation and the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea.
The McCain-led mission was part of their trip to Southeast Asia – including Myanmar and Vietnam – to broaden and deepen their existing defense and security pacts between the two states.
The US delegation included US Senators Joseph Liberman, Sheldon Whitehous, and Kelly Ayotte.
“The Senator uttered strong affinity for the Philippines and affirmed the ‘long and friendly personal relationship’ between the two states. With regard to the West Philippine Sea and China issue, McCain expressed that the freedom of navigation is the best way to avoid confrontation with China,” the DFA said in a statement released on the day of McCain’s visit.
While in Manila, McCain’s delegation also sought an update from former DFA Undersecretary Rafael Seguis concerning the Government of the Philippines – Moro Islamic Liberation Front (GRP-MILF) Peace Process.
Last meeting with Philippine officials
In September last year, Cayetano recalled his meeting with McCain at the Capitol Hill where they discussed the challenges confronting Manila and Washington, and how the partnership can be further strengthened to address nontraditional security concerns, such as drug trafficking and violent extremism.
It was also in that meeting when McCain shared his thoughts and his family’s history and affinity with the Philippines
“Senator McCain told us his grandfather served in the Philippines during the American Occupation and the Second World War while his father, who became a Navy admiral, also saw action in the Philippines and was a recipient of our Legion of Honor,” Cayetano recalled.
“Senator McCain also told us about the time he spent in Subic as a young Navy aviator serving in Vietnam and his arrival at Clark Air Base after his release as a prisoner of war,” he added.