UNITED States (US) Defense Chief Lloyd Austin III and Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. discussed on Thursday, February 3, 2023, “concrete actions” to address destabilizing activities in the waters surrounding the Philippines, including the West Philippine Sea (WPS), amid the claims of China.
Following a courtesy call on President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. at the Malacañang earlier the day, Austin had a sit-down meeting with Galvez at the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters in Quezon City.
In a press conference, Austin said that among the matters they discussed were the ways to make the US and Philippines alliance stronger, enhancing the mutual defense posture and strengthening the commitments of the two countries under its mutual defense treaty.
Austin noted that the mutual defense treaty between the US and the Philippines applies to armed attacks on either of their respective armed forces, public vessels or aircraft anywhere in the South China Sea or WPS.
“We remain committed to strengthening our mutual capacities to resist armed attack. This is part of our effort to modernize our alliance an these efforts are especially important as the People's Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Phil Sea,” the US Defense chief said.
“Now [with] the work that we've done together, I am optimistic about the future of our alliance and I am confident that we will continue to work together to defend our shared values of freedom, democracy and human dignity,” he added.
For his part, Galvez expressed strong opposition against any unilateral action or attempt to disrupt the current world order, noting the country shares the same views that all countries should resolve any issue peacefully and adhere to the international law particularly the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
China has repeatedly refused to recognize the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands that invalidates their claims within the sea areas falling within the nine-dash line, which is over 90 percent of the WPS.
The ruling also affirmed the traditional and legitimate fishing rights of Filipino fishermen in the area.
The Philippines has filed nearly 200 diplomatic protests against China in 2022 over the dispute in the WPS, which reportedly resulted in the harassment of Filipino troops and fishermen in the area by Chinese personnel.
Austin also expressed gratitude to Marcos for approving to accelerate the full implementation Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) sites by designating four new locations in strategic areas of the country and the substantial completion of the projects in the existing five agreed locations.
But he clarified that the US is not seeking permanent basing in the Philippines.
“It’s about providing access, it allows us to increase training opportunities with our partners or allies here and it’s about having the ability to respond in a more effective fashion,” said Austin.
“And we're faced, collectively faced with humanitarian issues or disaster response issues and so this is an opportunity to increase our effectiveness, increase interoperability. It is not about permanent basing but it is a big deal, it’s really a big deal and that it gives us, it provides us the opportunity again to interact a bit in an effective way,” he added.
Galvez has yet to disclose the location of the four new locations as they were still coordinating with the respective local government units as ordered by Marcos.
In a statement, the US Embassy in the Philippines said the “expansion of the Edca will make our alliance stronger and more resilient, and will accelerate modernization of our combined military capabilities.”
In terms of capability enhancement, Galvez said they are looking at necessary equipment to defend the country’s maritime domain.
“I believe one of the requests of the chief of staff is really on how to detect even the coastal and submarine capability down there in the West Philippine (Sea) and we also look at the capability training,” he said.
During a visit to the Philippines in November, US Vice President Kamala Harris said the US has allocated over $82 million toward Edca implementation at all five existing locations. (SunStar Philippines)