US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his official visit to Manila on Aug. 6, 2022. (Photo by Rico Borja)

MANILA – United States (US) Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday assured President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. that the US would honor its decades-old commitment to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

Blinken made the assurance after he paid a courtesy call on the President at Malacañang Palace to strengthen the ties between the two countries.

"We’re committed to the Mutual Defense Treaty. We’re committed to working with you on shared challenges," Blinken said. “What’s so striking to me, Mr. President, is that (we’re) working together on bilateral relations between us, we’re working together in the region, and increasingly, we’re working globally.”

Signed on Aug. 30, 1951, the MDT is an accord that stipulates that the Philippines and the US would support each other if either of them were to be attacked by an external party.

Blinken described the US commitment to the MDT as "ironclad," adding that "an armed attack on Philippine Armed Forces public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke the US Mutual Defense commitments under that treaty."

Aside from securing the Philippines' maritime domain, he said the US will continue to partner with Filipino fishermen and scientists to preserve its maritime resources, which he said are under threat from illegal fishing.

Marcos, meanwhile, said the 70-year-old joint defense pact is in "constant evolution."

"The Mutual Defense Treaty is in constant evolution. I’d like to think of it,” Marcos said. “As I spoke with your Ambassador sometime when she came, is that we cannot, we can no longer isolate one part of our relationship from the other. We are too closely tied because of the special relationship between the US and the Philippines, and the history that we share.”

He also recognized the assistance and support the Philippines has received from the US over the years, noting that it could no longer be "categorized as one thing or another because they cover such a large scope.”

In a statement, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said apart from defense and security cooperation, the President and Blinken also talked about other issues that include renewable energy, climate change mitigation, agriculture, food security, and the coronavirus disease 2019.

Cruz-Angeles said Blinken also hailed Filipino nurses in the US, calling them "angels who are caring in so many ways."

Among those present in the meeting were US Ambassador MaryKay Loss Carlson, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink, Director of the Secretary of State's Policy Planning Staff Salman Ahmed, Spokesperson Ned Price, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Thomas Sullivan, and Political Counselor Brett Blackshaw.

The US Secretary of State also had a meeting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo on Saturday.

Manalo, meanwhile, is optimistic about the two nations' cooperation, which he said also expands to counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, among others.

Asked if a joint patrol in the West Philippine Sea is possible under this administration, Manalo answered in the affirmative but clarified that it would have to be discussed first.

"In our view, joint patrols between the Philippines and the United States can take place, they are under the ambit of the MDT and also within the context of the Mutual Defense Support and Security Engagement Board," he said.

"So I think this is an issue which will be continued to be explored bilaterally. And as I mentioned, there are existing multiple platforms for which discussions of this nature could be held," Manalo added.

The bilaterals between the two top diplomats was held virtually after Blinken's meeting with President Marcos.

This is Blinken's first trip to the country since assuming office in January 2021.

It followed the official visit of Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the State Department’s second-highest official, in June. (with reports from Joyce Ann L. Rocamora/PNA)