Philippine envoy to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said on January 13, the country received one of the largest military assistance from the US at almost $600 million from 2016 to 2022 in an ABS-CBN News Channel interview.

“This is because, obviously, there is major concern on the influence that is coming out of the country, specifically of course China, which is now considered to be a competitor of the United States in our part of the world,” Romualdez said.

Data from the US Embassy in the Philippines noted that the country is “by far the largest recipient of US military assistance in the Indo-Pacific region.”

“Since 2015, the United States has delivered more than PHP36.9 billion ($771.7 million) worth of planes, ships, armored vehicles, small arms, and other military equipment and training to the Philippines,” it said.

“Since 2015, the US has conducted 853 ship visits to the Philippines and engaged in 1,321 bilateral military engagements alongside our Filipino allies,” it added.

The envoy also said the Philippines’ exchange of information and alliance with Japan and Australia under the Indo-Pacific strategy helped it build a good alliance with the US, alongside the retraction of the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

“That strategy is now in place. We have a situation where it’s clear that any attack on the Philippines is an attack on the United States. That’s very clear now,” Romualdez said, noting that the US is offering help on the issue of China’s “concerning presence” in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

He said the alliance allows the Philippines to call on the US “whenever needed and vice versa.”

In a report by GMA News, China demanded the Philippines remove the grounded BRP Sierra Madre vessel at the Ayungin Shoal a day after Filipino boats reached the ship to complete their resupply mission last November 2021.

The Chinese Coast Guard blocked and water cannoned two Philippine supply boats as Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. assured that no one was hurt during the incident.

VFA restored, alliance in ‘a good place’

Romualdez noted in the interview that the VFA, “an implementation of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty forged by the US and the Philippines as security partners after World War II and a framework agreement that covers the treatment and presence of American forces in the country with or without war games,” has contributed to the assistance received from the US by obtaining a “fair share of resistance” to make the country’s military withstand any kind of forces from the outside.

The agreement also allows the US military to assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in “combating extremist groups by providing technical assistance and enemy surveillance to Filipino troops battling the militants.”

“We want to make sure that our Armed Forces (is) now strong enough, which is very important for any country, for that matter, that we have a strong military, we have a defense force that is credible and that we can fight off any kind of offense that comes from other countries,” Romualdez said.

In January 2020, Duterte ordered the abrogation of the VFA after the cancellation of close ally and former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa’s US visa.

“No more bases. They have to start to talk to us because they have to go,” Duterte said in a speech before former communist rebels.

“Kahiyaan ‘yan sa militar. Biro mo, isang sundalo nagtatrabaho lang tapos ganunin nila. I am putting them to humiliation itong mga pulis, mga sundalo,” he added.

In another report by GMA News, US officials did not cite a specific reason for the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa but speculations arose that it could be due to his involvement in the Duterte Administration’s controversial war on drugs.

In November 2020, Duterte suspended the abrogation due to lingering tensions with China in the disputed South China Sea.

In July 2021, Duterte ordered the retraction of the termination of the VFA.

“The President’s decision to recall the abrogation of VFA is based on upholding the Philippines’ strategic core interests, the clear definition of Philippines-United States alliance as one between sovereign equals, and clarity of US position on its obligations and commitments under the Mutual Defense Treaty,” then-presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.

Meanwhile, Romualdez said the US donated a total of $20.2 million or more than PHP1 billion assistance to help the country’s Typhoon Odette operations.

The envoy noted that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is giving the Philippines “special attention” due to climate change.

“In fact, the group of Manny Pangilinan, we recommended to have a meeting with them to find out how they can generate power in areas where we don’t have electricity,” he said, noting the USAID is “ready to assist the country in its disaster resiliency programs and possibly bring in modular nuclear power plants as part of the US’ goal of having cleaner energy.”

Moreover, Romualdez also emphasized the significance of ensuring both interests of the US and the Philippines are well protected and that “no one should take another for granted.”

“I’m very pleased to say that I think that we’re in a very good place now as far as our relationship with the United States, mainly because for whatever it is, the Duterte administration has made it very clear that we cannot be taken for granted,” he said.