SND Lorenzana’s Washington visit
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - September 23, 2018 - 12:00am

Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana’s much awaited official visit to Washington, D.C. was extremely fruitful. Our meetings with his counterpart Defense Secretary James Mattis, as well as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, were both informative and productive. 

Our meetings with Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado (chairman of the Senate committee on foreign relations’ subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific) and Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska (a prominent member of the Senate committee on armed services) were also very productive. Both senators are good friends of the Philippines. Senator Sullivan sponsored the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015 that finally recognized the contribution of the brave Filipino soldiers who fought side by side with the US during World War II.

All the meetings which we arranged for the Secretary were all key to communicating to our friends in Washington that the alliance remains strong. However, there is some work to be done in bolstering and strengthening our Armed Forces. 

During Secretary Lorenzana’s meeting with Secretary Mattis at the Pentagon, both of them reaffirmed the longstanding defense relationship between our two countries and expressed a renewed commitment to the defense alliance between the Philippines and the US. 

As I told the students taking up international studies when I was invited by the Brigham Young University in Utah as a guest lecturer at the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, the alliance will continue to be viewed as the foundation of the bilateral relationship between the US and the Philippines in the years to come, and that it remains relevant to the peace, security and progress of the whole Indo-Pacific region.

This commitment to the alliance was also reiterated during our meeting with Secretary Pompeo at the State Department, with the latter expressing the readiness of the US to continue supporting the modernization efforts of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Last month, the US government turned over an advanced Special Airborne Mission Installation and Response (SABIR) system worth P807 million that will go a long way in enhancing the AFP’s maritime domain awareness, airborne command and control, counterterrorism as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities. 

Just this March, the US transferred six Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) units worth P687 million to the Philippine military. Last year, two C-208 Cessna aircraft worth P1.6 billion were turned over, as well as a Raven tactical UAV system and a Tethered Aerostat Radar System – underscoring the steadfast commitment of the US in enhancing the capabilities of the AFP. In fact, the Philippines is the biggest recipient of US military aid in Asia, with over P5 billion worth of military equipment turned over since January 2017.

The meetings went very well, with Secretary Lorenzana expressing appreciation for the support that the US has been providing for the AFP modernization program. He also explained that while the Philippines has revitalized other defense partnerships and is exploring new ones with non-traditional partners including China and Russia in line with the Duterte administration’s independent foreign policy, this does not in any way affect the longstanding alliance between the Philippines and the United States.

“The Philippines-US alliance remains robust, based on an enduring history of close engagement and our unwavering commitment to work together on shared values,” Secretary Lorenzana said during the meeting at the Pentagon. This close alliance has in fact been bolstered by the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that is intended to, among other things, promote interoperability and strengthen the AFP’s capability for maritime security and maritime domain awareness, strengthen our military’s external defense, and enhance our humanitarian assistance and disaster response capabilities.

A key component of EDCA are the joint training exercises whose importance is recognized by both the US and the Philippines. The last Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercise in May saw the biggest number of troops from the Philippines and the US Indo-Pacific Command participating. Two weeks ago, Filipino and American soldiers were joined by Japanese forces for the humanitarian aspect of the Kamandag (Kaagapay ng mga Mandirigma ng Dagat) military exercise whose second iteration will take place this October to strengthen the participating troops’ abilities to respond to disasters and increase their counterterrorism capabilities. 

The US has been very supportive of our counterterrorism efforts, and will contribute an additional P1.4 billion ($26.5 million) worth of assistance for over two years to boost our law enforcement capabilities in fighting terrorist activities. As described by AFP chief General Carlito Galvez, the Balikatan exercise was actually very “timely and relevant” as it came close to the first anniversary of the Marawi siege, with soldiers gaining valuable lessons in fighting extremists.

It is worth noting that for the first time ever, the Philippines participated in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise that took place in Hawaii from June 27 to Aug. 2. The Philippines sent a 700-man contingent onboard BRP Davao del Sur and BRP Andres Bonifacio to take part in RIMPAC – the biggest and most prestigious joint maritime exercise in the world hosted by the Pacific Fleet of the US Navy – with over 25,000 participants from 25 countries. It was, in the words of Secretary Lorenzana, an “important milestone” for the entire AFP that ushers in a new era of maritime operational engagement, cooperation and interoperability.

I was very pleased with Secretary Lorenzana’s visit to DC. No doubt the ties that bind our nations are strong, and this alliance will continue to be stable and enduring – moving in the right direction.

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