US Defense to PH: We always have your back; We’re family

WASHINGTON, D.C.—United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. that the US will always back the Philippines in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

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(Photo courtesy of PCO)

During their meeting at the Pentagon on Wednesday, May 3 (Washington time), Austin reiterated his country's commitment to the Philippines in case of armed attacks against public vessels or aircraft anywhere in the Pacific, including the South China Sea, citing their Mutual Defense Treaty.

Austin told Marcos that the US will always have the Philippines' back.

"President Biden has made clear our commitment to the defense of the Philippines is ironclad. And let me tell you once again that our Mutual Defense Treaty applies to armed attacks on our armed forces, coast guard vessels, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific including anywhere in the South China Sea," Austin said.

"So make no mistake Mr. President, we will always have your back in the South China Sea or elsewhere in the region," Austin added.

The US pointed this out following the latest incident in the West Philippine Sea, where a Philippine Coast Guard vessel and a Chinese Coast Guard ship nearly collided due to the latter's alleged shadowing.

'We're family'

The US Defense chief also stressed that the Philippines has been "an indispensable friend and ally" to the United States.

"And I said before Mr. President, we’re more than allies, we’re family and we share a common vision for free and open Indo-Pacific because a region governed by rules and rights help provide security and prosperity for our two countries and for the whole region," Austin said.

Marcos, on the other hand, told Austin that he looks forward to a "very bright future" between the two long-time allies.

"Mr. Secretary, I look forward to a very bright future between the Philippines and the United States, a future that is founded on the long experience and as you say, friendship and familial relationship because the people-to-people exchanges between our two countries have been ongoing at every level," Marcos said.

The President also mentioned to Austin what he told US President Joe Biden about evolving their partnership amid the new challenges in the international scene.

During their meeting, both leaders discussed plans to swiftly operationalize the four new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites in Northern Luzon and Palawan.

These new sites will enable combined training, exercises, and other cooperative activities – including to support the US and Philippine Armed Forces’ (AFP) maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities – to address a range of shared challenges in the Philippines and across the Indo-Pacific.

They also discussed ways to coordinate more closely with like-minded nations—including Australia and Japan—to strengthen shared principles, including the rule of law, freedom of the seas, and respect for territorial sovereignty.

Marcos was welcomed by Austin at the Pentagon with full military honors on Wednesday morning here prior to their meeting.