The United States and the Philippines will continue the fundamental work needed to modernize and strengthen the alliance between the two nations, said Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. today at the Pentagon.
The secretary hosted a full-honors ceremony for the close ally on the Pentagon Parade Field — the first such ceremony for more than three years.
The secretary reiterated the United States' ironclad commitment to the Philippines under the Mutual Defense Treaty. The treaty, Austin said, "applies to armed attacks on our armed forces, coast guard vessels, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, including anywhere in the South China Sea. So, make no mistake, Mr. President, we will always have your back in the South China Sea or elsewhere in the region."
Marcos came to the Pentagon the day after meetings with President Joe Biden at the White House. The visit is the latest in a series of meetings between the two nations. Austin visited Manila in February and met with Marcos at the Malacanang Palace. Last month, the two nations held "two-plus-two" talks with defense and foreign affairs leaders in Washington.
Marcos said this visit furthers the efforts to strengthen relationships between the two nations. A DOD official said the visit is happening at a historic moment in the alliance. The two militaries are deepening coordination and interoperability at all levels, the official said.
Austin mentioned the recently completed Balikatan exercise hosted in the Philippines. It was the largest Balikatan exercise in history with 17,000 troops from the Philippines, the United States and Australia, he said. The exercise covered land, sea, air and — for the first time — cyber scenarios.
Following on that effort is Cope Thunder — an exercise testing air power interoperability. This is the first Philippine-hosted version of the exercise since 1990, officials said.
The two defense leaders discussed U.S. support to Philippine defense modernization efforts and expanding operational cooperation in the maritime domain, including the South China Sea, a senior defense official said. "We'll also talk a lot about ongoing plans to continue to operationalize the [enhanced defense cooperation] agreement sites … in Northern Luzon and Palawan," the official said. The four new sites are Balabac Island; Camp Melchor Dela Cruz; Lal-lo Airport, Cagayan; and Naval Base Camilo Osias. These bases join five others that were previously announced: the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay, Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu and Lumbia Air Base on the island of Mindanao.
Marcos and Austin also discussed new bilateral defense guidelines. This item reflects the unprecedented effort behind modernizing the alliance to bring it into a new era of cooperation, the senior defense official said. The emphasis is to look at how threats arise in the various domains and what form those threats will take. This will enable Philippine and U.S. officials to chart a bilateral way forward "to help build our interoperability, information sharing, planning, etc., around how we address these conventional and nonconventional threats," the official said.