PHL welcomes visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry

MANILA, Dec. 17 (PNA) — Malacanang welcomed on Tuesday the visit of United States Secretary of State John Kerry to the Philippines, saying this will further strengthen cooperation between the two allied countries on various fronts.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio “Sonny” Coloma Jr. said Kerry’s visit “presents an opportunity to discuss the broadening of economic and security cooperation, strengthening of people-to-people ties, as well as humanitarian assistance in disaster response and cooperation on regional issues.”

“Ikinagagalak natin na ang ating strategic partner… ito ay nagpapakita ng pakikiisa sa ating bansa, lalo sa aspeto ng pagtulong [The visit shows their commitment and cooperation with our country, especially in terms of humanitarian assistance, the US being a strategic partner],” Coloma said in a media briefing at the Palace.

Coloma said the reported announcement by Kerry that the US will boost maritime security assistance to the countries of Southeast Asia amid rising tensions with Beijing is consistent with the Philippines’ stand to defend freedom of navigation and freedom of aviation and flight.

He said the Philippines joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Japan in last weekend’s ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit in stressing the importance of freedom of navigation in the seas and freedom of flight.

“Magandang panahon ang pagpunta niya dito kasi katatapos lang ng ASEAN-Japan Summit kung saan nagkaroon ng pagkakaisa ang ASEAN heads of state hinggil sa walang sagabal. They came up with a joint statement on the significance and importance of freedom of navigation and aviation and observation of international laws [His visit came at an opportune time when the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit had just concluded where ASEAN heads of state and Japan came up with a joint statement on the significance and importance of freedom of navigation and aviation and observation of international laws],” Coloma said.

Earlier reports indicated Kerry pledged an added USD 32.5 million for ASEAN members to protect their territorial waters and navigational freedom in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

“Yan pong pahayag na ‘yan ay consistent sa posisyon ng ating bansa at ASEAN heads of state at Japan, yung pagtataguyod ng freedom of navigation and flight or aviation,” Coloma said.

He said discussions on the increased rotational visits of US forces will likely take between President Benigno S. Aquino III and Kerry.

Kerry began his two-day visit to the country Tuesday.

It is his first visit to the Philippines as US Secretary of State.

While in Manila, Kerry will meet with President Aquino and Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, among the topics that are expected to be discussed during these events are the broadening of economic and security cooperation of the Philippines and the US as well as strengthening of people-to-people ties.

Humanitarian assistance and disaster response and cooperation on regional issues are also expected to be part of the agenda.

Kerry will also visit Tacloban City to meet people affected by super typhoon “Yolanda” as well as those involved in the relief effort.

Meanwhile, Coloma said President Aquino will also likely meet with United Nations leader Ban Ki-moon who will go to Tacloban City this week to assess the situation there.

“Alam ko magkakaroon sila ng meeting, after which he will go to Tacloban to assess the situation there,” Coloma said.

He said he is not certain though if Aquino will join Ban in his trip to Tacloban.

The UN secretary general is set to arrive in Manila on Friday for talks with government leaders and will go to Tacloban on Saturday, UN spokeswoman Eri Kaneko said.

More than 6,000 people died in the Nov. 8 typhoon — one of the strongest storms ever recorded — which badly hit Tacloban and surrounding regions. (PNA)