US stands by defense treaty with Philippines

Michael Punongbayan - The Philippine Star
US stands by defense treaty with Philippines
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana shakes hands with visiting US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper after a meeting to discuss security issues and priorities at Camp Aguinaldo yesterday.
Boy Santos

MANILA,Philippines — The United States remains committed to its Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines and “rejects attempts by any nation to use coercion or intimidation to advance its national interests at the expense of others,” visiting US defense chief Mark Esper said yesterday.

“Our alliance remains strong and it continues to adapt to meet the challenges of the future. Today, I reiterated the United States’ commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty which applies to the entire Pacific region, including the South China Sea,” he told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo after a meeting with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

“It is crucial that we stand together to preserve freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea,” he added.

Asked about China’s provocative activities in the South China Sea, Esper said that based on plenary discussions during the recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defense Ministers Meeting Plus in Bangkok, participants “are very concerned about China’s excessive claims in the region, that there are lack of compliance with international laws and norms.” The summit was held from Oct. 31 to Nov. 4.

“I spoke about this so I think it’s incumbent for all of us to take a very public posture and to assert our sovereign rights and to emphasize the importance of law, that’s why the US conducts freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) and I think the statistic said yesterday that we have more FONOPS in the past year than we have in the past 20-plus years, and so have other countries by the way,” he explained.

“The signal that we are trying to send is that we all stand with international laws and I think China should abide by them as well, that acting collectively is the best way to send that message,” Esper stressed.

Esper said the US and the Philippines must continue to work closely together, just like they have been doing in the past 70 years, to uphold international law.

He also maintained that counterterrorism cooperation remains an important pillar of America’s defense relationship with the Philippines as Operation Pacific Eagle Philippines continues to successfully counter ISIS affiliates and other violent extremist organizations threatening the Philippines.

“We stand shoulder to shoulder with the Armed Forces of the Philippines in fighting terrorism. The United States remains committed to supporting the Philippines’ continued efforts to deny terrorist groups a safe haven in the region,” he said.

Esper said he and Lorenzana discussed a number of other areas to strengthen the defense cooperation between the US and the Philippines, including helping modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines and improving maritime security and domain awareness. 

He said the US looks forward to training in joint air and maritime patrols with the Philippine military to improve interoperability and to demonstrate US commitment to upholding long standing international rules and norms.

Esper said he and Lorenzana also discussed opportunities for enhancing joint military exercises, strengthening cyber security awareness and improving defense infrastructure.

“Overall, I’m very pleased with the outcome of today’s meeting. Our alliance with the Philippines is absolutely vital to the security and stability of Indo-Pacific, which is our priority region. I’m confident that as we continue to work closely together we will meet the challenges of the future and preserve the gains that both our nations have worked so hard to achieve,” he said.

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