MANILA, Nov 11 (Mabuhay) — President Benigno Aquino III and US President Barack Obama will discuss security issues, possibly including the territorial dispute in the South China Sea, when they sit down for bilateral talks at the sidelines of the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting next week, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg told reporters on Wednesday.
“Well, I don’t want to preempt the President [Obama], but obviously our security relationship issues that are of mutual interest,” Goldberg said when asked about the scope of the two leaders bilateral meeting.
Goldberg met with reporters after attending the Veterans Day ceremonies at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Taguig City on Wednesday.
Asked if the two leaders would also discuss the South China Sea dispute and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) during the bilateral meeting,” Goldberg said, “I would imagine they will, that when the two presidents get together, those are issues of mutual concern.”
The US Navy recently conducted freedom of navigation patrols near China-claimed islands in the South China Sea, a move that the Philippines welcomed.
The Philippines has a pending arbitration case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague against China’s claims over most of the South China Sea.
While Aquino and Obama will discuss security issues, the Philippines and Chinese sides agreed that there will be no discussions as regards the sea dispute during the APEC summit.
“Our alliance with the Philippines is very strong and I know that the President [Obama] is very much in support of that relationship, of that alliance,” Goldberg said.
“And everytime he comes here, everytime he meets with Philippine officials he wants to make sure that we strengthen that alliance,” he added.
Goldberg indicated the US’ interest in the Supreme Court’s pending decision over the validity of the EDCA as an executive agreement between the two countries.
The EDCA provides for increased rotational presence of US forces in the Philippines.
“We, of course, are waiting for a very important Supreme Court decision as is the government here,” Goldberg said.
“We have a very good EDCA agreement and we’re looking forward to implementing it when the time is right, when all of the decisions have been made on this side,” he added.
The Senate on Tuesday adopted a resolution indicating that the EDCA is a treaty that needed the concurrence of the chamber.
In 2014, Philippine and US officials inked the 10-year defense pact that will allow an enlarged rotational presence of American troops in the country.
Under the EDCA, the Philippines authorized US forces to train, refuel aircraft, and pre-position their supplies within the Philippine territory.
However, critics have questioned the EDCA’s constitutionality before the SC, saying the pact violates the Philippines’ sovereignty.
“APEC itself is obviously concentrated on economic issues, not on political issues, not on military and security issues. But bilateral discussions are something else. Obviously, they will encompass a full of array of US-Philippine ties,” Goldberg said.
Goldberg said Obama and Aquino would also discuss the upcoming Paris Climate Conference in December. (MNS)