Top Philippine military officials will meet with US Pacific Command chief Adm. Roberto Willard in Hawaii on Tuesday (Manila time) to discuss “mutual security concerns,” but there is no assurance that the dispute over the Spratlys Islands would be tackled.
Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos, public affairs office chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said the meeting “is an affirmation of the long-standing defense cooperation between the Philippines and the United States.”
“It demonstrates that the partnership between the two countries remains robust, dynamic, and beneficial to both parties, and underscores the unrelenting commitment of both countries toward a more secure Asia-Pacific region,” said Burgos in a statement Sunday.
The meeting will be held as part of the annual RP-US Mutual Defense Board and RP-US Security Exchange Board, which is co-chaired by Willard and AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Oban.
The Security Engagement Board is responsible for implementing the Mutual Defense Treaty, which the two counties signed in 1951. It mandates both sides to aid each in case of foreign aggression.
Burgos said the party of Oban, which includes Navy chief Vice Adm. Alexander Pama, Army chief Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz and national police chief Director General Raul Bacalzo is due to leave Sunday night for the two-day meeting.
The delegation also includes Air Force inspector general Maj. Gen. Carlix Donila, Marines commandant Maj. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, Army Special Operations Command chief Maj. Gen. Roberto Morales, Coast Guard commandant Adm. Ramon Liwag, and representatives from the defense and foreign affairs departments.
“During the Board meeting, the strategic dialogue will focus on mutual security concerns to demonstrate increased bilateral commitment to the 60-year-old mutual defense alliance,” said Burgos.
He said the two sides will also discuss “traditional as well as nontraditional security issues” like mutual defense, maritime security, counter-terrorism, cyber security and disaster response, among others.
Burgos could not specifically said if the South China Sea conflict will be discussed during the meeting, although Oban said in an earlier interview that the issue would be “definitely” tackled in the meeting “because of the recent statements and developments we’ve been hearing and seeing.”
The military establishment has reported a number of intrusions by China in Philippine-claimed areas in the Spratly Island over the past months, prompting the Department of Foreign Affairs to file diplomatic protests against Beijing.
The Spratly Islands is a chain of islands and islets that are believed to be rich in oil and mineral depositions. The area is being claimed in part or in whole by the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.