President Aquino says Philippines welcomes defense agreement with open arms

MANILA, Nov. 19 (PNA) — President Benigno S. Aquino III on Wednesday said the Philippines welcomes the mutual benefits under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States, even while it is being reviewed by the Supreme Court (SC).

In a joint press conference with US President Barack Obama after their bilateral meeting in Pasay City, President Aquino said the country has been one of the oldest allies of the world’s largest economy.

“On the Philippines’ part, we will have access to the most modern technology that will bring us into higher capabilities, and that is why we welcome now with very open arms this agreement pending before our Supreme Court,” he said.

The President said that under EDCA, the US will have the opportunity to use Philippines military bases “to be able to have more stability in its ability to project its own power within the region, in an effort to help in the stability and the orderliness and the diffusion of the tension within the region.”

He said EDCA will be the country’s contribution to President Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’ policy.

Similarly, President Obama said he is optimistic that EDCA will sail through the Supreme Court’s review process.

“We are confident that it is going to get done and we are going to be able to implement effectively the provisions and the ideas that have come forward during the course of these discussions,” he said.

He emphasized that “the broader point is that, as a treaty ally, we have a rock solid commitment to the defense of the Philippines”.

“And part of our goal is to continue to help our treaty partners build up capacity, to make sure that the architecture of both defense work, but also humanitarian work, and other important activities in the region are coordinated more effectively, and we think that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement is going to help us do that,” he said.

President Obama also backed Manila’s move to bring the dispute with China over the Spratlys chain of islands in the West Philippine Sea for arbitration in The Hague.

“As I have said earlier, we are not claimants ourselves, but we fully support a process in which through international law and international norms, these issues are resolved. And we look forward to working with all parties to move disputes through these channels,” he added.

President Aquino meanwhile said that getting other claimants to join the country’s arbitration case, filed before the Arbitral Tribunal in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, was not discussed during his bilateral meeting with Obama.

He disclosed that officials from other claimants have been asking the Philippines about its experiences and the studies it conducted before filing an arbitration case against China.

“They are watching us closely in this arbitration and are very close to a decision whether or not to join us in arbitration,” he said. (PNA)