US Vice President Kamala Harris receives a briefing from PCG officials aboard the BRP Teresa Magbanua.

US Vice President Kamala Harris wrapped up her visit to Puerto Princesa City on Tuesday iterating Washington’s support to the Philippine government in asserting its sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea (WPS) in light of continuing aggression by China in the maritime area.

“As an ally, the United States stands with the Philippines in the face of intimidation and coercion in the South China Sea,” Harris said in her closing message during a tour of the Philippine Coast Guard vessel BRP Teresa Magbanua.

“As the United States has long made clear: We support the 2016 ruling of the UN Arbitral Tribunal, which delivered a unanimous and final decision firmly rejecting China’s expansive South China Sea maritime claims. The tribunal’s decision is legally binding and must be respected,” she added.

Harris did not directly address the recent incidence of Chinese aggressive action in the area, including the alleged forced takeover of a space rocket debris being towed by a Philippine naval tugboat that happened two days before her arrival.

She announced, however, that the US will expand its ongoing engagement with national maritime agencies to increase the country’s maritime awareness capabilities in monitoring its territorial waters.

“This initiative uses space based platforms to deliver a common operating picture of Indo-Pacific waterways, and to promote transparency, so that our allies and partners can better protect vulnerable fisheries, respond to humanitarian disasters, and detect and counter illicit activities,” Harris said. She noted that the Unites States is set to launch new satellites in space to support such programs.

Harris announced that the US will provide some $7.5 million in assistance “to enhance the capabilities of Philippine maritime law enforcement agencies.”

Harris also visited the Tagburos fishing village in the city outskirts to interact with local fishermen and underscore US’ support to marine conservation and climate change initiatives in the WPS.

She pointed out ongoing efforts of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to build partnerships with local stakeholders in the western Philippines to support traditional livelihoods and sustainable fishing practices and a separate grant to local organizations to implement conservation and climate change interventions in the South China Sea.

Harris arrived in Puerto Princesa City aboard US Air Force 2 shortly before noontime, proceeding first to Barangay Tagburos before capping her visit at the Teresa Magbanua Philippine Coast Guard ship. (with reports from Gerald Ticke, Aira Genesa Magdayao, Rachel Ganancial and Arphil Ballarta)