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Carter Hails 'Ironclad' Relationship With the Philippines

April 15, 2016 | BY Lisa Ferdinando , DOD News

The United States is taking a number of steps to further strengthen its already "ironclad" relationship with the Philippines, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said yesterday in Manila, the Philippines’ capital city.

Those steps include the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and the commencement of the U.S. maritime security initiative, Carter said at a joint press conference with his Philippine counterpart, Voltaire Gazmin.

"Each will help strengthen our 65-year-old alliance, and deepen our military-to-military cooperation at a time of great change in the Asia-Pacific," he said.

The change in the Asia-Pacific region includes China's actions in the South China Sea, which are, he said, causing anxiety and raising regional tensions.

The U.S.-Philippine alliance, and others like it, have been nurtured over decades, tested in crisis and built on shared interests, values and sacrifice, Carter said.

"As President Obama has made clear, our commitment to the Philippines is ironclad," he said. The partnerships in the region, the defense secretary said, "form the bedrock of our role in the Asia-Pacific, and accordingly, the stability and security that have helped so many here and around the Asia-Pacific to rise and to prosper."

Carter is in the Philippines to focus on the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region. He met yesterday with Gazmin and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III at the Malacanang Palace in Manila.

Carter is on a two-week trip to the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region that began in India and will continue on to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

The United States began joint maritime patrols with the Philippines last month, Carter said. Those patrols in the South China Sea are helping build interoperability and improve the Philippine navy, while also contributing to safety and security of the region's waters, he explained.

'Unbreakable Commitment' to Philippines

In addition to the patrols, as part of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, or EDCA -- the joint U.S.-Philippine defense agreement -- some U.S. Air Force personnel and aircraft will remain in the Philippines on a rotational basis after their participation in this year’s Balikatan exercise. Carter also spoke yesterday at the Balikatan closing ceremony.

The arrangement will allow U.S. forces, at the invitation of the Philippine government, to conduct high-impact, high-value rotational training exercises and activities in support of the modernization of the Philippine armed forces and strengthening mutual defense, the defense secretary said.

"These rotations and activities will improve our ability to work together and quickly respond to any manner of crisis, man-made or natural disaster, like Typhoon Haiyan in 2013," he said.

The initial contingent is five A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, three HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and one MC-130H Combat Talon aircraft, Carter said.

The defense secretary said 200 airmen will continue the joint training conducted during Balikatan. They will conduct flight operations in the area, including the South China Sea, and lay the foundation for joint air patrols to complement ongoing maritime patrols, he said.

A command-and-control node of American personnel will also remain behind, Carter said. They will continue exercising combined U.S.-Philippines command-and-control capabilities and supporting increased cooperative activities in the region, he said.

"With these steps we're making a strong alliance even stronger," the defense secretary said.

"Our efforts to do more together demonstrate America's unbreakable commitment to the defense of this nation, the stability and security of the Asia-Pacific and the principles that have helped so many in the region to rise and prosper," Carter said.

In addition, the maritime security initiative represents a $425 million five-year commitment by the Defense Department to help countries like the Philippines share information, identify potential threats and work collaboratively to address common challenges in the region's waters, he said.

Honoring the Fallen

Earlier in the day, Carter placed a wreath at the Manila American Cemetery. Seeing the many rows of graves was a "striking reminder" of the Americans who have fought and died in defense of U.S. allies, the defense secretary said.

The fallen Americans fought to "defend the principles and the values we share and help establish and maintain in the Asia-Pacific to sustain its stability and its security," he said.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter signs a guest book at the Manila American Cemetery in Manila, Philippines, April 14, 2016, after laying a wreath to honor U.S. service members. DoD photo by Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz
Defense Secretary Ash Carter signs a guest book at the Manila American Cemetery in Manila, Philippines, April 14, 2016, after laying a wreath to honor U.S. service members. DoD photo by Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz
Defense Secretary Ash Carter signs a guest book at the Manila American Cemetery in Manila, Philippines, April 14, 2016, after laying a wreath to honor U.S. service members. DoD photo by Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz
Book Signing
Defense Secretary Ash Carter signs a guest book at the Manila American Cemetery in Manila, Philippines, April 14, 2016, after laying a wreath to honor U.S. service members. DoD photo by Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz
Photo By: Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz
VIRIN: 160414-D-DT527-138
Members of the Philippine military have done the same, Carter noted, as he paid tribute to fallen Philippine service members.

Like those buried at the American cemetery, those fallen Philippine service members have "made the ultimate sacrifice," he said.

"As we remember those lost, it falls to all of us to carry on their mission, to continue defending our countries, to continue upholding the stability and security of the region and to continue building a better world for our children," the defense secretary said.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)