(SPOT.ph) U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is in the Philippines for a three-day official visit, which includes a trip to the island of Palawan near disputed reefs and outcrops in the South China Sea, aiming to further strengthen the alliance between Washington and Manila.
Together with her husband Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, Harris arrived in Manila on Sunday, November 20, after attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation economic leaders meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, where she also met President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.
Harris' trip makes her the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the Philippines since former U.S. President Barack Obama, who met with the late President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III in Manila in 2015.
She will also be the highest-ranking U.S. official to step foot on the Philippine island facing the territories claimed and fortified by China, more than six years after Manila won its arbitration case against Beijing over the disputed islands.
What Harris' visit means for the Philippines
Harris paid a courtesy call to Marcos at Malacañang Palace on Monday, November 21, where she talked about finding ways to further boost the U.S. and Philippines' alliance on the economy, climate change, and national security.
"We must reiterate always that we stand with you in defense of international rules and norms as it relates to the South China Sea," Harris told Marcos.
"An armed attack on the Philippines, armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. Mutual Defense commitments. And that is an unwavering commitment that we have to the Philippines," she added.
Prior to Harris' trip to the Philippines, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also visited Taiwan, another country involved in a regional dispute with China.
Aside from national security matters, Harris also opened up about opportunities to invest in renewable energy in the Philippines, and how it will help create more jobs and industries in the country.
How Harris' visit will help the Philippines
Harris' official trip to the Philippines is expected to strengthen the country's health sector and help Filipino veterans and children who experienced online sexual abuse, the U.S. Embassy said.
According to the embassy, Harris will announce the U.S. government's initiative to invest $5 million to expedite the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the Philippines, GMA News reported.
The U.S. government will also work on the inclusion of Filipino veterans in the U.S. military into the PACT Law, which will give more health benefits to war survivors. The U.S. government likewise will spearhead a new program to fight online sexual exploitation of children and support Filipino victims, the report added.
Harris is set to fly to Palawan on Tuesday, November 22 after paying a courtesy call to Marcos and other Philippine officials.