Marcos, Harris eye bigger SCS drills with other states


PRESIDENT Marcos Jr. and US Vice President Kamala Harris explored a possible expansion of their joint bilateral exercises with other countries in the South China Sea.

Harris headed the US delegation to Asean meetings in lieu of US President Joe Biden in Jakarta. She met Philippine President Marcos Jr. briefly at the margins of the Asean-US Summit Wednesday.

“The two leaders discussed the maritime security environment in the South China Sea, and reviewed opportunities to enhance bilateral maritime cooperation, including alongside like-minded partners,” the White House said in a readout released.

The White House readout did not specifically mention the countries which they deem “like-minded partners.”

But prior to the bilaterals, Philippine Ambassador to Washington DC Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez said the US and Japan had earlier requested for a trilateral meeting at the sidelines of the Asean summits.

Japan and the Philippines are defense treaty allies of the US.

The US and Philippines navies conducted a bilateral sail in the South China Sea last September 4. On that same day, the Japanese Navy also held anti-submarine exercises in the South China Sea.

Tokyo and Manila are still negotiating a status-of-forces agreement that would provide legal cover for both armed forces to conduct joint bilateral exercises.

The US likewise has defense arrangements with Australia and India under Quad, as well as with United Kingdom and Australia under AUKUS.

Last month, Biden met with the Japanese Prime Minister and South Korean President in Camp David where they agreed to expand security and economic cooperation.

President Marcos Jr. hailed the joint statement of the three leaders, called “The Spirit of Camp David” which specifically opposed the militarization of reclaimed islands and rocks in the South China Sea, as well as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

“The [Camp David] Statement cemented a common security agenda among the United States, Japan, and South Korea, on arguably the most problematic issues in the region. Issues that undermine regional peace and prosperity, including but not limited to supporting the free and open international order based on the rule of law,” Marcos said in his intervention speech during the US-Asean Summit.

During their bilateral side meeting, Harris affirmed the US’s “ironclad alliance commitment” to the Philippines. Harris likewise “welcomed the strength of the bilateral relationship,” and highlighted the role the US-Philippine alliance plays in “ensuring a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”

Marcos and Harris also welcomed the identification of four additional sites pursuant to the US-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, as they upheld their “shared commitment to upholding the rules-based international order.”

The new EDCA sites in Palawan, Isabela and Cagayan “will drive US investment to local communities across the Philippines and improve our shared ability to rapidly deliver humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”

The White House added that both leaders also talked about opportunities to deepen commercial and economic cooperation.

This is the third time the two leaders met officially. The first time was when Harris traveled to Manila for an official visit a five months after Marcos Jr. assumed office last year. Harris also joined Biden during Marcos-Biden bilateral meeting in Washington, DC in May 2023.

President Marcos and the Vice President also discussed opportunities to bolster bilateral economic cooperation and enhance economic resilience.