VP Harris in Manila; visit seen to reset PH-US ties
MANILA, Philippines — United States Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in the Philippines on Sunday evening, in what was the first visit in five years by a top-ranking US official since former President Donald Trump set foot in the country for the 2017 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.
She was accompanied by her husband, lawyer Doug Emhoff, as they arrived 6:55 p.m. at Ninoy Aquino International Airport on board an Air Force 2 aircraft.
This is Emhoff’s second visit to the country as US second gentleman, following his June 30 visit to attend Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s inauguration as president.
Harris and Emhoff were escorted by US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson, as they were welcomed by, among others, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Romualdez and Chief of Presidential Protocol Adelio Cruz.
Vice President Sara Duterte, Harris’ Philippine counterpart, was represented instead by Office of the Vice President spokesperson Reynold Munsayac.
Other Filipino officials among the welcoming party were Pasay City Mayor Imelda Calixto Rubiano, Rep. Antonino Calixto, and Rafael Regular, assistant general manager for operations of the Manila International Airport Authority.
She will pay a courtesy call to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Malacañang today and is also scheduled to meet with Duterte.
Her activities on Monday also include a town hall forum about women’s empowerment at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel.
The US vice president is expected to hold talks aimed at reinforcing the longtime security and economic ties between Manila and Washington.
In an online briefing ahead of the visit, a senior US administration official told the Associated Press Harris would underscore America’s commitment to extending support to the Philippines by asserting rule-based international maritime order over its maritime dispute with China.
On Tuesday, Harris will meet with members of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in Palawan province.
She will be welcomed on board the patrol ship BRP Teresa Magbanua, according to PCG spokesperson Commodore Armand Balilo.
Beijing claims some territories in the waters off Palawan and much of that sea. A 2016 international arbitration ruling, however, said the Chinese claims had no legal basis—a victory for Manila which, however, has yet to be enforced.
The sea is believed to contain massive oil and gas deposits; it is also the stage for $5 trillion in ship-borne trade each year.
Harris will then visit an island off Palawan adjacent to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Mr. Marcos had said that this would not raise tensions with China as she would be “very clearly on Philippine territory.”
“I don’t see why they should. She is in the Philippines and she is visiting another part of the Philippines. And of course, it’s the closest area to the South China Sea, but it’s very clearly on Philippine territory. I don’t think it will cause problem,” the President said.
What US sees in Marcos
The US vice president comes to the region as the administration of US President Joseph Biden seeks to shore up relations with allies worried about growing Chinese influence in Southeast Asia and a possible conflict over Taiwan, the self-governing island China regards as its own.
The Philippines is an important part of this diplomatic push. Military access to the country, just 193 kilometers from Taiwan, would greatly complicate any attempt by China to invade Taiwan, according to military analysts.
US officials said Biden and his national security aides see Marcos as a strategic and strong ally for its top foreign policy challenge — competition with China.
“It makes sense to invest high-level attention to restore deepened cooperation across the board with this youthful, populous, prospering, and strategically located ally,” said Daniel Russel, the top US diplomat for East Asia under former President Barack Obama and now with the Asia Society.
The visit by Harris marks a sharp turnaround in relations. Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, frustrated Washington with his strongman approach, bellicose tone, and perceived closeness to Beijing.
With Marcos in office, the Biden administration is attempting a reset.
The US president called Marcos the night after his election victory in May, according to a person familiar with the call.
“I think I woke you up election night. I called you so late to congratulate you,” Biden recounted later when the two met for the first time in September at the United Nations.
—WITH A REPORT FROM KRIXIA SUBINGSUBING
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