‘Walking shoulder to shoulder in the footsteps of heroes’
Rosalinda L. Orosa (The Philippine Star) - April 6, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Remarks by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario during the opening ceremony for Balikatan 2013.

Allow me this beautiful morning to express that the Balikatan exercises we are launching today are powerful and living symbols of the longstanding security relationship between the Philippines and the United States. These exercises breath life and meaning to our obligations as treaty partners.

Just as importantly, the Balikatan exercises and others like it are important practical and strategic elements in building the capacity of the Philippines to secure and defend itself.

The joint exercises we hold every year with the United States are rooted in our common history and in our shared values.  These are roots that run deep.

In four days we will commemorate the uncommon courage of Filipino and American soldiers who fought side by side in Bataan and Corregidor.

In four days we will honor their heroism and sacrifice - their willingness to lay down their lives for democracy, freedom and liberty.

Unchanging Common Values

These common and sacred values -- unchanging in victory or in defeat, immutable in the face of challenges old or new, great or small -- are what held us together then.  These gave us the strength to stand together even in the face of overwhelming odds.

Today these same values are what make the bonds between our two nations strong.

These are the values that sustain our security relationship.  This relationship remains robust and vigorous -- forged by our shared sacrifices in the Pacific War, by our standing boldly together in the dark days of the Cold War, and in facing today’s current and pressing challenges.

Stronger Security Relationship

Together, we continue to build on that relationship. Just In the past three months, we’ve had key high level exchanges and discussions centered on our security relationship.

US congressional delegations led by the chairmen of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Veterans Committee were in Manila. Defense Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter was also here.  This week, I met with both Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Washington.

In all these discussions, both sides reiterated their firm commitments as strategic partners and treaty allies.

Investing in Our Own Defense

These key officials have pledged to work with us to build our own capacity to defend ourselves.

And defend ourselves we will. The Philippines is investing in its own defense at levels never seen before.

But we understand clearly that we can increase the value of these investments through joint training and other agreed activities with our allies.

Joint training with the United States results in savings on training expertise and training equipment and other resources -- savings that can be used instead to purchase more much needed equipment and materiel.

A Crucial Time for Philippine and Regional Security

This year’s Balikatan comes at a crucial time for my country and my region.

For our region, excessive and exaggerated maritime and territorial claims have not only created uncertainty but have undermined the rule of law. Regional peace and stability have been placed at serious risk.

For my country, we need to secure our borders and protect our territorial integrity more vigorously than we have before. 

Balikatan, with its complex and comprehensive set of exercises, is an important contribution in not only preparing both our armed forces to work together, but also in building my country’s own capacity to defend itself.

I am glad to note that there are exercises that help prepare our two nations for the increased rotational presence of US forces in approved areas in the Philippines. 

This will be crucial in our efforts in the short term to establish our minimum credible defense posture and in the long term to build a more robust national defense structure.

Facing Natural Disasters

The Balikatan exercises also address another serious threat to the security of my country and that of the region - natural disasters. The United Nations has identified our region as the most prone to natural disasters.

It is significant that there is again a strong humanitarian assistance and disaster response component to this year’s Balikatan.  

Over the years we have shown that working together in facing natural disasters we are able to save more lives and rebuild more quickly the futures of those affected.

I am particularly pleased to note that there is a multilateral dimension once again in this year’s Balikatan, involving a number of countries (invited are: Australia, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Korea, Thailand, Vietnam).

The multilateral roundtable discussion in this year’s Balikatan will focus on cooperation on humanitarian assistance and disaster response in our region.  They will be discussing a topic of great importance to all of us, and in doing so also help build trust and confidence in our region.

A Soldier’s Duty

A diplomat’s greatest fear is that in failing to build peace, soldiers will have to be called upon to do their duty and place themselves in harm’s way.

This fear is mitigated by the knowledge that allies stand by us. It is lessened by the knowledge, that our men and women in uniform are prepared to face the consequences when diplomacy falls short. It is allayed by the fact that our brave soldiers are willing and able to succeed where diplomacy may fail.

In the Footsteps of Heroes

Today men and women from the armed forces of the Philippines and the United States will once again stand side by side for the common good and for the values that define our two nations.

Your commitment to keep the peace and protect our freedoms reverberates with the spirit of honor and valor of the Filipino and American soldiers who had marched before you seven decades ago.

You walk side by side, in the footsteps of heroes, with the same courage, determination and sense of sacrifice necessary to protect our nations and our peoples in today’s world.

We stand before you in awe and we salute you.



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