Washington: The United States declared Tuesday that its commitment to defend the Philippines is "ironclad" as the country`s supreme court cleared the decks for a new security deal.
As the court in Manila voted to approve the 10-year Enhanced Defense Co-operation Agreement, Filipino ministers were already in Washington to celebrate.
Under the accord, more US troops and warships will rotate through bases in the Philippines at a time of tension with China over control of the South China Sea. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter met their counterparts Albert del Rosario and Voltaire Gazmin at the State Department.
"Our strategic relationship begins with a very firm pledge that the United States has an ironclad commitment to the security of the Philippines," Kerry said. "We will continue to consult and cooperate on all issues affecting regional security, such as territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea," he added.
The United States will not reopen its former military bases in the Philippines, officials said. But Kerry, welcoming the court decision, said the deal would see Washington help modernize Philippines forces to be better able to work alongside the US fleet.
Pentagon spokesman Commander Bill Urban said the accord was "mutually beneficial" and would help the militaries to respond jointly to humanitarian crises.
The deal was signed in 2014 but was challenged by groups opposed to US involvement in the Philippines, which was a US colony in the Pacific from 1898 to 1946.
The Philippines hosted two of the largest overseas US military bases until 1992, when lawmakers voted to end the leases in the face of anti-American sentiment.
But presidents Benigno Aquino and Barack Obama pushed for stronger ties in the face of an assertive China, which has maritime boundary disputes with Manila.