DFA: US Sec of State Kerry begins two-day PHL visit on Tuesday

By Michaela del Callar

MANILA, Dec. 16 (PNA) -– U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will arrive in the Philippines on Tuesday, in a visit aimed at further strengthening bilateral and security ties between the two allies as Manila grapples with years-long territorial feud with China and the aftermath of a powerful storm that struck the country last month.

Kerry will meet with President Benigno S. Aquino III and counterpart Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to discuss issues of mutual concern that is likely to include the maritime disputes and Beijing’s recent imposition of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over an area it is disputing with Japan.

Manila and Washington refused to recognize China’s new ADIZ amid fears that it will establish a similar zone in the South China Sea, where the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia Brunei and Taiwan have been locked in years-long territorial rift. The Philippines has adopted the name West Philippine Sea for parts of the disputed body of water it is claiming.

Kerry’s Philippine visit is part of his Middle East and Southeast Asian tour that included Ramallah in the West Bank and Vietnam.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said humanitarian and disaster response and security and economic cooperation would also be part of the agenda.

While in the country, Kerry will also fly to Tacloban City, which was among the areas hardest hit by the typhoon, to meet those affected by super typhoon Yolanda and oversee the ongoing U.S. relief efforts there.

Kerry is also expected to discuss America’s planned increased rotational presence of its troops in the country, which are currently being negotiated by Philippine and US panels.

Other topics to be discussed are the broadening of security and economic cooperation and the strengthening of people to people exchange as well as humanitarian and disaster response, Hernandez said.

The U.S. was among the first countries to respond to the disaster by deploying troops, navy ships, aircraft and monetary aid after the storm wrought massive devastation across the Visayas region on Nov. 8.

At least 6,000 were killed and the numbers continue to rise as more bodies are being retrieved from the wreckage.

The United Nations said Yolanda, the strongest storm to make landfall, has affected at least 14 million people.

Experts and foreign aid agencies say it will take several years before the affected areas could fully recover. (PNA)