Secretary of State Kerry hailed Philippines Supreme Court ruling that confirms security deal with U.S. as he hosted Philippines leaders. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry welcomes the Foreign Minster and Defense Minister of the Philippines to the State Department after the Philippines Supreme Court declared a security deal with the United States constitutional, allowing an increased U.S. military presence in the former U.S. colony as tension rises in the South China Sea. "We welcome the Philippines Supreme court's decision that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation agreement is consistent with the Philippine Constitution," Kerry said. "It is a very important decision." Those views were echoed by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter. "The United States has indicated our intention to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, whether it be the South China Sea or anywhere else, around the world, he said. Carter added, that the decision by the Philippine Supreme Court "Gives us new opportunities." The court voted 10-4 to deny a petition of some lawmakers and activists to declare the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) unconstitutional because it surrendered Philippine sovereignty to a foreign power. Manila has long been a staunch U.S. ally and the pact is widely seen as important for both sides, which are worried by China's increasingly assertive pursuit of territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea. Philippines Defense Minister Voltaire Gazmin said, "our security interests are becoming increasingly intertwined, while we grapple with non-traditional security concerns, and natural man-made disasters; traditional security challenges to include territorial and maritime disputes, remain to be fundamental concerns." At a State Department meeting -- where he was joined by Philippines Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario the Defense Minister added, "Given this strategic context, we should be in a position to address such common concerns, as well as contribute to regional peace and stability." The pact was signed days before U.S. President Barack Obama visited the Philippines in 2014. It will allow U.S. troops to build facilities to store equipment for maritime security and humanitarian and disaster response operations, in addition to broad access to Philippine military bases. Philippine military officials say there has been an increase in U.S. exercises, training and ship and aircraft visits in the past year under President Barack Obama's "rebalance" of U.S. forces and diplomatic efforts to Asia in the face of China's rise, but the pact would take the relationship a step further. China claims almost all the South China Sea, which is believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, and has been building up facilities on islands it controls.