US President Joe Biden on Thursday pledged in his first meeting with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to strengthen relations with Manila after what he said had been “rocky times” in the past.
Meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the leaders discussed tensions in the South China Sea, the long-standing security relationship between the US and the Philippines, stresses to the global economy, and food security caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, among other issues.
Biden also said that the Philippines was among US allies to quickly condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We’ve had some rocky times, but the fact is, it’s a critical, critical relationship, from our perspective. I hope you feel the same way,” Biden said.
The relationship hit bumps during former Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s term in office.
Human rights groups said Duterte’s “war on drugs” resulted in thousands of extrajudicial killings, virtually all carried out by police and armed vigilantes without due process, and mostly against the poor.
The US government suspended counternarcotics assistance to the Philippine National Police in 2016.
The White House in a statement said that the leaders discussed “the importance of respect for human rights.”
Thursday’s talks came amid heightened tensions between the US and China over Washington’s Taiwan policy.
Marcos, the son and namesake of the nation’s former president, took office in June. He has said he wants to pursue closer ties with China, which has also courted him.
Biden has put a premium on improving relations with Pacific nations in the early going of his presidency. He sees a rising China as a threatening economic and national security adversary.
Filipinos are “your partners, we are your allies, we are your friends,” Marcos said.
He also thanked the US for its “massive” assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, including sharing vaccines, and for its role in ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
“The role of the United States in maintaining the peace in our region is something that is much appreciated by all the countries in the region, and the Philippines especially,” Marcos said. “The 100-plus-year-old relationship between the Philippines and the US continues to evolve as we face the challenges of this new century.”
Before Marcos took office earlier this year, US National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell said that “historical considerations” could present “challenges” to the relationship with Marcos Jr.
That appeared to be a reference to long-standing litigation in the US against the estate of his father.
A US appeals court in 1996 upheld damages of about US$2 billion against the elder Marcos’ estate for the torture and killings of thousands of Filipinos. The court upheld a 1994 verdict of a jury in Hawaii, where he fled after being forced from power in 1986. He died there in 1989.
Marcos has bristled at critics who have branded his father a dictator. He has also repeated his father’s justification that martial law was necessary to fight growing Muslim and communist insurgencies.
“It was necessary to — in my father’s view at the time — to declare martial law because a war was really raging already at the time,” he said in an interview with ALLTV.
The elder Marcos placed the Philippines under martial law in 1972, a year before his term was to expire. He padlocked the nation’s congressional and newspaper offices, ordered the arrest of many political opponents and rights advocates, and ruled by decree.
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