US provides missiles, renews pledge to defend Philippines

MANILA (AP) — United States (US) President Donald Trump’s administration provided precision-guided missiles and other weapons to help the Philippines battle Islamic State (IS) group-aligned militants and renewed a pledge to defend its treaty ally if it comes under attack.

National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien represented Trump in yesterday’s ceremony at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila, where he announced the delivery of the missiles and bombs to the Philippine military. Trump pledged to provide the USD18 million worth of missiles in a phone conversation with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in April, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said.

O’Brien expressed condolences to the Philippines after back-to-back typhoons left a trail of death and devastation in the country and outlined US help to the country to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The US assistance projects normalcy in Washington’s foreign relations as Trump works to challenge the results of the November 3 presidential election, claiming he was a victim of fraud. Duterte had asked Filipino Americans to vote for Trump but congratulated Joe Biden, through his spokesperson, for winning the election.

Asked in an online news briefing if any of the officials he met in Vietnam and the Philippines voiced concern about the post-election situation in the US, O’Brien said nobody did. “There will be a transition if the courts don’t rule in President Trump’s favour,” he said.

O’Brien represented Trump in a recent online summit between the US and leaders of the ASEAN and an expanded East Asia summit of heads of state attended by China and Russia that was also held by video and hosted by Vietnam.

United States National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr elbow bump after the turnover ceremony of defence articles at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City, Metro Manila. PHOTO: AP

In his remarks at the turnover of the US missiles in Manila, O’Brien cited the Trump administration’s role in the defeat of the IS group in the Middle East and last year’s killing of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in Syria, and renewed its commitment to help defeat IS-linked militants in the southern Philippines.

“President Trump is standing with President Duterte as we combat IS here in Southeast Asia,” O’Brien said. “This transfer underscores our strong and enduring commitment to our critical alliance.”

He expressed hope for the continuance of a key security agreement that allows American forces to train in large-scale combat exercises in the Philippines. Duterte moved to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US early this year but later delayed the effectivity of his decision to next year, a move welcomed by O’Brien.

He said the US stands with the Philippines in its effort to protect its sovereign rights in the region. The Philippines announced last month that it would resume oil and gas explorations in or near Reed Bank, which lies off the country’s western coast. The allies have a 69-year-old mutual defence treaty.