The status of the bilateral relationship with the United States and the validity of the Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT) were among the many topics discussed recently in an interview given by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary, Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. to representatives of Oxford Business Group (OBG).
Locsin highlighted that the MDT has proven to be effective in maintaining peace in the Philippines and the wider region since the beginning of the Cold War, and expressed his desire to see it preserved in its current form.
“The United States remains the only military ally of the Philippines as it is distant enough not to interfere with our internal policies, yet strong enough to project its power in the region and protect us if the need arises. Striking a defence deal with another military superpower would be illogical,” Locsin said, noting that surveys indicate that the Philippine population feels more positive sentiments towards the US than other major powers.
The Secretary underlined that maintaining the current status of the MDT is a priority for the DFA in the area of national security. Nevertheless, it is compatible with striking economic agreements with other nations that are mutually beneficial.
On the issue of the territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea, Secretary Locsin made clear that the Philippines will not relinquish its claims recognised under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), but there still is room for economic cooperation with China. In the last visit of the Chinese foreign affairs minister in late 2018, 34 agreements were signed, including two crucial Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs): the MoU on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and the MoU on Cooperation in Oil and Gas Development.
“We will not yield an inch in defending our sovereign rights. However, this does not mean we cannot work around our differences and cooperate in other areas of mutual benefit”, stated Locsin. “Both the Philippines and China acknowledge the BRI and the oil and gas sector as areas of common interest, and we agree on the potential for joint ventures in oil and gas projects”.
Addressing the needs of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), who number approximately 2.3 million according to the Philippine Statistics Authority, is another priority for DFA.
“In order to protect OFWs, we work towards strengthening our relations with the host countries, making sure that our foreign policy and votes in the United Nations do not antagonise the governments hosting our citizens,” Locsin said. “The host countries are not providing charity; they need Filipino workers because of their skills to fulfil certain professions, so we also investigated reported abuses in countries when required”.
Locsin stressed that OFWs are looking for jobs they cannot find in the Philippines, which is a legitimate aspiration of all Filipinos that the DFA will always respect and uphold.
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