Background Press Call By Senior Administration Officials On the Vice President's Engagements in the Philippines

Published: Sun Nov 20 2022

Via Teleconference

8:36 P.M. PHT

MODERATOR: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us. Apologies for the delay, but we'll go ahead and get started.

Tonight's background briefing is to preview the Vice President's travel to the Philippines and her activities tomorrow on Monday, November 21st.

The terms of this call are as follows. It's on background, attributed to a "senior administration official." And the contents are embargoed until 6:00 a.m. on Monday in Manila and 5:00 p.m. Sunday in Washington, D.C.

For your information, not for your reporting, our speaker today is [senior administration official], hereinafter will be referred to as a "senior administration official." And I will turn it over to him for some opening remarks, and then we'll take some Q&A.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. And hello, everybody, and thank you for joining.

Tomorrow, the Vice President will have two bilateral meetings in Manila, with President Marcos and with Vice President Duterte-Carpio.

And overall, I would say, this visit is about strengthening our bilateral relationship with the Philippines in recognition of our long history as friends, allies, and partners.

This visit builds on a number of significant high-level engagements with our Philippine allies that we've already had in this administration, including President Biden's early congratulatory call to President Marcos after the race was called in May. President Biden was actually the first leader to call then-President-elect Marcos.

Another of these significant engagements was the Second Gentleman's leadership of a presidential delegation to the inauguration of President Marcos in June.

There was also President Biden's bilateral meeting with President Marcos in New York in September and then a number of other Cabinet-level engagements with Philippine counterparts in Manila and elsewhere.

And so, you see that our administration has already engaged significantly, and the Vice President is going to be building on that early engagement with her visit here.

I think you've all received the embargoed factsheet about the visit, which shows a wide range of new initiatives that the Vice President is launching to strengthen our partnership with the Philippines across a range of issues, including on climate action, energy and food security, the digital economy, health, and maritime cooperation.

Let me just go through some of the topics we anticipate that the Vice President will discuss with President Marcos and the associated announcement that she - announcements that she will make.

First, on security, you can expect the Vice President to reaffirm the strength of the alliance and our commitment to upholding the international rules-based order in the South China Sea and the broader Indo-Pacific.

She'll reaffirm our defense commitments under the mutual defense treaty with the Philippines and our support for the 2016 U.N. arbitral tribunal ruling that rejected China's expansive maritime claims.

And she'll have more to say about this when she visits Palawan, but the Vice President will underscore our commitment to stand up for international rules and norms because we recognize the impact that has on Philippine lives and livelihoods.

In addition to that, as an outcome of the Vice President's visit to Manila, we are strengthening our security cooperation related to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, or "EDCA."

And EDCA provides the legal basis for our military to operate in agreed locations in the Philippines on a rotational basis. And there are currently five EDCA locations. And we're announcing now that we have identified new locations to deepen our work together.

This will allow for more security cooperation exercises, combined training activities, and it will allow us to respond to disaster relief and humanitarian assistance needs.

EDCA provides economic benefits to the Philippines as well. The United States has allocated over $82 million toward EDCA implementation at the existing locations and more is on the way, and we have awarded the vast majority of contracts supporting these projects to Philippine companies.

On economic ties, as the Vice President said at the APEC CEO Summit the other day, we want to work with the private sector to increase foreign direct investment in the Indo-Pacific, and that includes the Philippines.

The Vice President will tell President Marcos that we are pleased to see our security ties in such a strong position, and we want to similarly strengthen our economic and investment relationship.

There are a few specific initiatives we are launching as part of this visit with a particular focus on the digital economy, including expanding access to 5G networks, increasing access to the Internet for marginalized populations, helping small and medium enterprises participate in e-commerce.

She will also launch a new public-private partnership on upskilling and ensuring the work force has the skills to succeed in high-tech manufacturing.

Lastly, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency will open an office in the U.S. embassy in Manila to help U.S. companies invest in the Philippine market, with a particular focus on energy and infrastructure needs. This will help identify projects for investors and accelerate our investment ties.

On clean energy and climate action, the Vice President and President Marcos have agreed to launch a new Energy Policy Dialogue with the Philippines, which will be a high-level platform to develop new forms of energy cooperation.

As you've heard the Vice President say throughout this trip, bold action on the climate crisis is not only critical to protect the people of our planet, it's also an economic driver. It drives economic growth. And in that light, there is an important announcement the Vice President will make that touches on both climate and economic growth.

We know the Philippines is interested in partnering with us on small modular reactors and other advanced technology. So the Vice President will announce that our countries are initiating negotiations on a 123 Agreement, an agreement that will allow for civil nuclear cooperation.

And once in force, this agreement will allow U.S. companies to export nuclear equipment, creating significant new commercial opportunities for our private sector. And of course this will also help the Philippines develop its energy security and transition to clean energy.

On food security - and we know this is a priority for President Marcos - the Vice President will agree to launch a "Food Security Dialogue" between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of State and their Philippine counterparts to ensure we can expand collaboration and make progress on resilient food systems.

And then, finally, on human rights, in her bilateral meetings, the Vice President will discuss the importance of respect for human rights, highlighting that our nations' shared democratic values serve as the foundation of our strong alliance.

Later in the day, the Vice President will have an opportunity to meet with Filipina human rights activists and civil society leaders. The Vice President will underscore our enduring commitment to human rights, democracy, and rule of law in the Philippines and around the world.

And as we've previously announced, she will have a moderated conversation with young women in a town-hall format where she will discuss empowering women and girls, and highlight the strong people-to-people ties between our countries.

You've seen this engagement with women by the Vice President in places around the world, and, for that matter, in places around the United States. And she looks forward to opportunity - to the opportunity to engage with young Filipina women here in Manila.

So that's a basic rundown of some of the discussions we expect to have and announcements we will make. And with that, we can open it up to some questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you for that. We'll take a few questions this evening. If you have a question, please use the "raise hand" function at the bottom of your screen, and - (audio drops.)

Q Hello?

MODERATOR: Oh, hello. I think our first question will be from Feliz Solomon. I believe your line is unmuted.

Q Yes, thank you. I was just wondering if you could provide any more detail about what's new with EDCA. You mentioned that there are some new locations that have been identified. Are we going to learn where those locations are, how many there are, and what they'll be used for?


MODERATOR: I believe - yeah, if could ask our speaker to repeat the beginning of that answer, I think we were on mute. Apologies.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Apologize if we were on mute for that. Sorry.

To back up, the question was about EDCA sites and whether we would be announcing new ones, and I was explaining that - or just reminding the group that we currently have five EDCA locations which are provided - the EDCA agreement provides the legal basis for our military to operate here to our mutual benefit. And what we've done and what we're announcing now is that we have identified new locations and have begun a process with the Philippines to finalize those.

So, no, to answer your question, I don't think you should expect specific announcements on those locations because that process is still underway. What we're saying is that we are engaged with the Philippines about expanding the program and we've identified some locations. And when we have finalized that work, we'll announce exactly where they'll be.

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you. Our next question will come from Jasmine Wright. I believe your line is unmuted.

Okay, I think we lost Jasmine. We'll go to Karen Lema. Your line should be unmuted in a moment.

Q Hi, thank you. Can you hear me?


Q Yes, thank you. My question is actually also related to the EDCA, about the new locations. Of course, you did say that the process is ongoing, but is it correct that there are five more locations that U.S. and the Philippines are discussing?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We don't have any anything to announce on the number of new locations, just simply that we're, again, engaged with our Philippine counterparts through our Department of Defense. And, obviously, this needs to be a mutual decision, so we're working on expanding the program. But the precise number of locations and where those locations will be is not for now.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you. And we will next go to Allison Jackson. Your line should be unmuted in a moment.

Q Hi - (audio drops.)

MODERATOR: Hey, Allison, if you're speaking, we're not able to hear.

Q Yep. Can you hear me now?

MODERATOR: Yeah. Perfect. Thank you.

Q Hi. I just wanted to - so, a quick follow-up question to the EDCA. It mentions the U.S. has allocated over $82 million towards the implementation of these five existing locations. Is that new money, or is that what has been spent since the start of the agreement?

And I have a second question, just about the 123 Agreement negotiations. Could you just explain exactly what that - what a 123 Agreement is? And - yeah.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. On the first, $82 million refers to the amount that the United States has allocated towards implementation of the existing agreement. And I think I noted that more funding is on the way.

A 123 Agreement is the legal basis that the United States needs to expand civil cooperation. And it consists of arrangements to ensure that civil nuclear energy cooperation is protected against nuclear weapons proliferation. And it's the basis of our national security act that requires such an arrangement to be in place with a country before we can proceed with the civil cooperation.

So, it's quite important that we were beginning that - we're announcing that we're beginning that process with the Philippines. And then once it is completed, we'll be able to move forward with important civil nuclear energy cooperation that would be important both for climate regions in the Philippines, energy security in the Philippines, and, of course, you know, exports by the United States that will be in our mutual benefit.

MODERATOR: Great, thank you. Again, if anyone has any remaining questions, please use the "raise hand" function at the bottom of your screen.

Okay, we'll go to David Santos. Your line should be unmuted in a moment.

Q Hi, good evening. With regards to the Vice President's visit in Palawan, may we know whether she will be delivering a message and will be addressing it specifically to China, particularly that - China's activities in the South China Sea, the same way that she criticized North Korea when she visited the DMZ in late September? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks for that. So the Vice President will be speaking publicly in Palawan. I think we've discussed before the purpose of her trip in Palawan - beyond just getting outside of the capital city, which is something she likes to do in countries she visits and is always interested in seeing things outside of the capital - but it's to underscore the importance of environmental protection.

Palawan is a place where fishing communities have been set back by environmental challenges, both from climate change but also from illegal and unreported fishing.

And so, climate - the climate crisis has been a theme of the Vice President's trip; frankly, it's been a theme that she stresses wherever she goes, but it's certainly been one of the things she has emphasized on this trip to Southeast Asia. And visiting Palawan is an opportunity to underscore and to help our Philippine allies with those challenges and, again, to highlight the challenges that they face.

But it is also a chance to - an opportunity to underscore the importance of the rules and norms that the Vice President has also frequently talked about, including in this region. And those rules and norms include the strong principle - principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and freedom of navigation.

So, that's why she's going, and she'll have an opportunity to speak publicly about that while she's there.

MODERATOR: Great. I think we have time for one more question, and we will go to Meryl Kornfield. Your line should be unmuted in a moment.

Q Thank you so much. I'm wondering, related to the EDCA locations, I understand locations are being identified so you aren't sharing specifics, but can you talk generally about their proximity to the South China Sea?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I don't want to get ahead of the process. We've underscored the purpose and the reason we have these EDCA sites, and they're to our mutual benefit and our mutual security. But, obviously, just - we're not in a position to talk about sites until they are selected and finalized.

MODERATOR: All right. That's all the time we have for this evening. Thanks, everyone, for joining us.

Again, as a reminder, this is on background, attributed to a "senior administration official." And the contents are embargoed until 6:00 a.m. on Monday in Manila, which is 5:00 p.m. on Sunday in D.C.

So, thank you all for calling in. And we'll talk to you soon. Thanks.

END 8:53 P.M. PHT

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