U.S. tells PH: We’re ‘behind you’ in Spratlys dispute

He was crudely booted out of office in 2006 as ambassador to the United States, but the beloved Albert del Rosario returned June 20 to an emotional and rousing welcome from the FilAm community of Metro D.C.

“You never left my heart,” the new foreign affairs secretary told the community at a reception held at the Philippines Embassy.

Del Rosario served as ambassador to the United States in 2001 to 2006. He was in the U.S. reportedly on invitation of the U.S., to discuss with leaders and legislators the increasing tensions over the South China Sea.

He hit the ground running, and wasted no time articulating the Philippine position in relation to China’s claim over the cluster of oil- and mineral-rich islands.

He met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton June 23. He told her that as far as the Philippines is concerned, international laws prevail in situations where disputes on maritime claims exist. He specifically cited the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which he said could provide directions on how maritime disputes could be addressed.

For her part, Clinton assured del Rosario that the U.S. will honor its commitment to the Philippines under the Philippines-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty. According to the treaty, “Each party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety, and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.”

Earlier on June 21, del Rosario met with Arizona Senator John McCain, a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The South China Sea was front and center in their agenda. McCain reiterated Washington’s support for the Philippines, which he considers the first democracy in Asia and a close treaty ally of the U.S.

Del Rosario expressed agreement with McCain, who called on the U.S. to step up efforts in supporting Southeast Asian countries on the issue of sovereignty in the South China Sea. McCain said the U.S. should assist Asean in developing and deploying an early warning system and coastal vessels in the areas being disputed. He also emphasized the importance of diplomacy and a unified effort in helping Asean address differences with China.

Both officials agreed that a multilateral approach is vital in resolving differences among the claimant nations.

On June 24, del Rosario met with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who expressed readiness to strengthen the Philippines’ capability in securing its maritime territory.

In a separate meeting with National Director for Intelligence (NDI) James Clapper on the same day, the U.S. official pledged to enhance the NDI’s intelligence-sharing with the Philippines to heighten the latter’s maritime situational awareness and surveillance in the West Philippine Sea. Clapper emphasized that the U.S. “has a long association” with the Philippines, and “we’ll do whatever we can to help” even as he expressed concern over the recent incidents in the South China Sea.

U.S. Defense Undersecretary for Policy Michelle Fluornoy also said that “we would be happy to have our team look into the full range of (the Philippines’) requirements (for maritime security)” and stressed that “we should not allow this perception that you (referring to the Philippines) are alone and we’re not behind you.”

Also at Capitol Hill, Virginia Senator Jim Webb and Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe introduced a resolution condemning the use of force in the South China Sea. The resolution calls for “a peaceful and multilateral resolution to maritime territorial disputes in Southeast Asia.”

Del Rosario commended the lawmakers in a meeting June 24 with Webb. He reiterated the importance of maritime security and freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea.

Webb related to del Rosario his long-time interest in the issue of sovereignty in the South China Sea. He called the attention of the secretary to the substantial work his subcommittee has accomplished which made a significant impact on U.S. foreign policy towards the situation in the South China Sea. Webb said it is time to back policy with action. He expressed confidence that the resolution has a good chance of clearing the Senate this week.

Webb, an author and highly decorated Vietnam War combat veteran, has visited the Philippines twice – the first occasion when he was still a journalist and later as secretary of the Navy.


  1. The response by the US is appropriate. It’s important that we maintain the freedom of navigation in the South China/West Philippine Sea. If China is allowed to dictate the freedom of navigation, it could cut off the commercial sea lanes between South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, The Philippines and other allies in the region. Cargo vessels delivering fuel and cargo to these countries transit through the South China/West Philippine Sea. If the sea lanes are closed, it would create a military and economic crisis for the US and our allies.

    With the vacuum of US air power when the US Armed Forces left The Philippines, China has resorted to “talk and grab.” They’ve continued to move eastward and away from their shores. The US must maintain the freedom of navigation in the South China/West Philippine Sea.

  2. Bruce Gordon wrote:

    The Chinese are finishing construction on an aircraft carrier. The carrier not built to fight the big U.S. Navy carriers, but would be very useful in projecting power in places like the Spratley and Parcel Islands against third-world nations.

    The Chinese invaded Vietnam with 250,000 troops in 1979, but lost – I have heard that the primary reason for their defeat was that their logistics system was unable to support a large army in heavy fighting a long way from China. The battle did show that the Chinese have the will to invade other countries. The new Chinese aircraft carrier (and excellent submarines, and many new fighters) means that the Chinese could take the Spratleys or the Parcels at will, as long as the USA stays out.

    The Philippines threw the USA out of its bases in the Philippines, and now they need US help. I think the USA is entering a period of isolationism, and doubt that the USA would risk a real confrontation with China over the Spratleys or Parcels. Local nations (which are much closer to those islands than China is) will have to look to their own defenses.

  3. Hi Bruce

    Just wanted to make a correction on your post. After a long negotiation between the US and The Philippines to extend basing rights, unfortunately the untimely eruption of Mount Pinatubo forced the United States to withdraw U.S. Forces from The Philippines despite an ongoing negotiation to extend U.S. military presence in The Philippines. The United States was NOT kicked out from The Philippines, although it had that appearance.

  4. Ka Ohlensehlen wrote:

    You’ve made a variety of nice posts here.I see something truly special in this website.Thank you for posting.

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