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US recognition of Philippines as partner in MDT 'significant' amid South China Sea tensions —Palace

The United States' (US) recognition of the Philippines as its partner in the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) is significant, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said Friday.

The Palace official made the remark after President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. met with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

"With regard to ‘yung defense, kinikilala ng Estados Unidos na treaty partner tayo and among those treaty agreements or executive agreements ay ‘yung Mutual Defense Treaty. So the recognition alone is significant," Cruz-Angeles said when asked if there were any affirmation or reaffirmation from Biden on the US' commitment to defend the Philippines in case of external attacks.

On the possibility of coming into a new agreement or redefining the MDT, the Press Secretary said it was discussed but no further information has been given to her yet.

Meanwhile, Cruz-Angeles said the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which allows US troops to train and advise the Philippine military in disaster response and its fight against terrorists, was not specifically mentioned in the plans of both the Philippine and US side.

In May, Marcos discussed with US Charges d' Affaires Heather Variava the possibility of "extending" and "redefining" the VFA.

Further, Cruz-Angeles said Marcos stressed the Philippines' trade alliance with the US as it remains as one of the country's biggest trade partners.

During the bilateral meeting, the White House said Marcos and Biden underscored their support for freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea in response to China's efforts to exert its influence there.

Marcos said that the US' role in maintaining peace in the region "is something that is much appreciated by all the countries in the region and the Philippines especially."

The Philippines is a key ally of the United States and vital strategically in case of any US need to defend Taiwan militarily from Chinese attack, given its geographical position.

Manila's ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez told Japan's Nikkei newspaper this month the Philippines would let US forces use its military bases in the event of a Taiwan conflict only "if it is important for us, for our own security." —KBK, GMA News