Lorenzana seeks stronger PH-US defense ties

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has reaffirmed his commitment that the Philippines will pursue a stronger defense cooperation with the United States in the final year of President Duterte's administration.

Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (left) walks alongside US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III as they hold a meeting in Washington, DC on Sept. 10, 2021 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Mutual Defense Treaty. (Photo courtesy of Department of National Defense)

Lorenzana made the commitment as he was hosted by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III in Washington, DC on Friday, Sept. 10 (US time), to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). The top-level meet was seen as a continuation of their bilateral talks in Manila last July 30.

During the meeting, Lorenzana said the MDT anniversary "offers a unique opportunity to reaffirm enduring ties that bind our countries" especially amid the current developments in the Indo-Pacific region.

"The MDT continues to give promotion of a stable international order in the Indo-Pacific region. Our national security strategy underscores the need for a stable and secure external environment for the Philippines," he said.

"We believe that regional stability necessitates a network of effective alliances and defense partnerships," he added.

The MDT is an accord signed on Aug. 30, 1951 which states that both countries shall defend each other in case of an armed attack by an external party.

Meanwhile, Austin expressed gratitude to Duterte's decision to restore the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which "signals a commitment by both sides to strengthen the longstanding alliance."

The VFA allows the US Department of Defense to conduct over 300 bilateral engagements a year with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, ranging from expert exchanges, ship visits, component exercises, to major joint training exercises.

"The Philippines is a vital treaty ally. Our countries face a range of 21st century challneges, and cooperation is key to the security, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific," Austin said.

The two Defense chiefs also agreed to convene the Bilateral Strategic Discourse (BSD) "to further discuss shared priorities for the alliance" and encouraged both Philippines and US militaries to sustain cooperation under the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB).

They also agreed to work on a bilateral maritime framework that advances cooperation in the maritime domain, and to resume projects in the approved Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) locations in the Philippines.