US '' obviously waiting'' for Philippines to seek help in "removing" Chinese ships in WPS, says envoy
The United States is waiting for the Philippines to ask assistance over the Chinese incursion in the West Philippine Sea, an envoy said on Tuesday.
Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez, in a pre-recorded press briefing, said that the Philippines and US Defense departments and the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Pentagon have been coordinating and communicating with each other regarding the situation in the West Philippine Sea.
"So we were working round the clock so to speak in terms of being able to navigate or making sure that there’s the freedom of the sea and that Code of Conduct that we are pushing," he said.
"At the same time, the United States is obviously waiting for us to call them if we need their assistance in removing or asking the vessels that are parked in our area of responsibility or economic zone. And both our Philippine Navy and the US Navy are working on this," Romualdez said.
The Philippines has filed diplomatic protests against China due to the continued presence of Chinese vessels near Julian Felipe Reef, an area within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. Manila has been demanding China to remove all its ships in the area.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who facilitated the pre-recorded briefing with Romualdez, said he did not notice the envoy's statement pertaining the situation in the West Philippine Sea.
"I don't want to put words in his mouth," he said when asked to expound on Romualdez's statement.
But he stressed that there were two instances when China occupied the Philippine-claimed area in the West Philippine Sea and yet the US did not come to aid Manila in accordance with the Mutual Defense Treaty.
"I am talking about when we lost Mischief Reef and the Scarborough, of course, during the time of (former) President (Benigno S.) Aquino (III)," he said.
Meanwhile, Romualdez said that dialogues continue between the Philippine and US panels regarding the Visiting Forces Agreement.
"We are hoping that this will be all resolved within the next couple of weeks to finalize it and (Foreign Affairs) Secretary (Teodoro) Locsin (Jr) will present this to the President," he said.
Duterte had ordered the termination of the VFA. But last year, the process to fully terminate the military treaty was halted due to coronavirus pandemic.
Romualdez said the VFA is an "important piece of agreement" that both sides would like to make sure that "this is something that it will be acceptable to both countries."
"But actually I told our friends here, I was joking with them, I told them that what is needed in the Visiting Forces Agreement will be the vaccine forces agreement first because that is a priority now that we have the vaccines coming to the Philippines as quickly as possible," he said.
The Philippines is trying to negotiate with US pharmaceutical companies for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines.
In the same briefing, asked if there is any plan for US President Joe Biden to invite Duterte in the US similar to other world leaders, Romualdez said, "Right now, I think President Biden is only meeting a few of the leaders, obviously because of the situation."
But he said towards the end of this year when things get better, Biden is expected to meet all ASEAN leaders in Brunei. Celerina Monte/DMS