Boosting the security ties and defense cooperation between the Philippines and the United States (US) is crucial to maintain the peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region, the US’ top Defense official disclosed Friday, July 30.
US Department of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III made the remark as he held a bilateral meeting with Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City. Austin was in a two-day visit in the country from July 29 to 30 as part of his Southeast Asian tour to strengthen US’ ties with its allies.
“A strong and resilient US and Philippines alliance [sic] remain vital to the security, stability, and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific,” Austin said.
The bilateral talks was conducted as Manila and Washington commemorated the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the 75th year since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The MDT, signed in 1951, is a formal agreement which states that both parties shall support each other in case of an external attack from another country.
“The bilateral ministerial meeting we held this morning served as a platform to discuss the way ahead for the Philippines-US alliance based on the current priorities of our respective administrations. It underscored the significance of the bilateral defense relations between the Philippines and the US, in light of new and re-emerging challenges that confront our nations,” Lorenzana said.
During the bilateral meeting, Austin discussed with Lorenzana the developments in the South China Sea (SCS) as the territorial dispute between China and the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) appears to subside. Tensions flared in March when around 220 maritime militia vessels were spotted at Julian Felipe Reef in the WPS, triggering a word war between top officials and diplomats of the DND and Chinese government.
After the bilateral meeting, Lorenzana announced that President Duterte ordered the recall of the planned termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), another military pact which governs the conduct or behaviour by American troops in the country.
“The Philippines is a valuable treaty ally, our oldest in age and [an] equal and sovereign partner,” Austin said.
The Pentagon Chief also committed to support the Philippines in case of an armed attack from a foreign country within the Pacific region, including the maritime dispute in the WPS.
“Our security partnership with the Philippines is stronger than ever. Secretary Lorenzana reminded me that the treaty, which is pretty old I think, but nonetheless it’s one that we are commited to. Again, I would re-emphasize that it just extends to South China Sea,” Austin said.
Aside from these, the two Defense Chiefs also discussed the COVID-19 pandemic response in the country.
The US government under the current administration of President Joe Biden has so far donated 5.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines. Several million doses more are expected to be given in the coming months as the US government pledged to help the country in enduring the devastating effects of the pandemic.