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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Joint Press Briefing With Philippine Secretary of National Defense Carlito Galvez in Manila, Philippines

STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr. of the Department of National Defense and Secretary Lloyd Austin, III of the U.S. Department of Defense.

SECRETARY OF NATIONAL DEFENSE CARLITO GALVEZ: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. The visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III here in the Philippines signifies a strong bond and enduring partnership between the Philippines and the United States, particularly in the areas of humanitarian assistance, economic development and peace and security, among others. Even the president said that our relationship will become stronger and robust.

Moreover, the trip of the Honorable Secretary Austin symbolizes the United States government's steadfast commitment to help its allies in preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific. Our nations share the belief that sustainable development and genuine peace should go hand-in-hand.

During our meeting, we took stock of priority areas, including the full implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, or EDCA, by completing the ongoing projects, as well as the agreement to designate new sites where EDCA agreement -- agreed locations may be developed. We will work on the timely completion of the framework of cooperation that will facilitate secured exchange of information between our defense establishments. We also encouraged the continued planning and conduct of high-impact and high-value activities primarily through the Philippine-U.S. Mutual Defense Board/Security Engagement Board, or MDB/SEB, and other Philippine-U.S. cooperative mechanisms.

Secretary Austin and I also agreed to deepen bilateral cooperation to support the Philippine defense capability needs, as well as the Philippine-U.S. alliance. The bilateral meeting we have today will further strengthen our nations' collaborative efforts in addressing pressing security threats in the region, as well as effectively dealing with the natural disasters caused by climate change, a major global concern we need to confront head-on.

We shall continue to work towards maintaining a stable, rule-based, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. Along with partner countries, we strongly opposed any unilateral action or attempt to disrupt current world order and share the same views, that all countries should resolve any issue peacefully and adhere to the international law, particularly the United Nations conventions of the law of the sea, or UNLOSC.

The Philippines also appreciates the U.S. continued support in our fight against COVID-19 and our counterterrorism efforts down south. Our discussion focused on how our countries can continue to work together in order to preserve the Philippine territorial integrity. We also talked about the initiatives that our nations can carry out to mitigate the impact of climate change in our societies.

These efforts, which we hope to jointly undertake is in line with the guidance of President Ferdinand Marcos and (inaudible), for the Defense Department to make sure that not an inch of our nation's territory will be lost, and our people's safety and security would be ensured by the strengthening of our diplomatic relations with our allies, preserve peace and create a stable international environment in the Asia-Pacific region. Thank you, and good morning once again to all.


Good morning, everyone. Secretary Galvez, thanks for a very productive meeting, and congratulations again on your new position. I look forward to continuing to work closely together.

Now, this was the fourth discussion that I've had with the Department of National Defense leaders since the start of the Marcos administration, and that just underscores the importance that both of our countries place on this relationship. This is our oldest treaty alliance in Southeast Asia, and we conduct more than 500 defense engagements together every year.

As President Biden has made clear, America's commitment to the defense of the Philippines is ironclad. Our alliance makes both of our democracies more secure and helps uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific, and today, we discussed ways to make this vital alliance even stronger. We talked about enhancing our mutual defense posture and strengthening our commitments under our Mutual Defense Treaty. We discussed expanding the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows our forces to operate together more efficiently from key sites across the Philippines. We talked about how we are co-investing EDCA sites to support security cooperation, combine training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and all those efforts make both of our countries more secure.

And we're pleased to announce today that President Marcos has approved four new EDCA locations, and that brings the total number of EDCA sites to nine, and I'm grateful to President Marcos for this decision.

Today, Secretary Galvez and I also reaffirmed our Mutual Defense Treaty commitments, and we'd note that the Mutual Defense Treaty applies to armed attacks on either of our Armed Forces, public vessels or aircraft anywhere in the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea. We discussed concrete actions to address destabilizing activities in the waters surrounding the Philippines, including the West Philippine Sea, and we remain committed to strengthening our mutual capacities to resist armed attack.

That's just part of our efforts to modernize our alliance, and these efforts are especially important as the People's Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea.

Now, I'm proud of the work that we've done together. I am optimistic about the future of our alliance, and I am confident that we will continue to work together to defend our shared values of freedom, democracy and human dignity. As you've heard me say before, the United States and the Philippines are more than just allies; we're family.

So once again Mr. Secretary, thanks for your hospitality, and thanks to everyone, and we'll be glad to take a few questions.

STAFF: All right, our first question will go to Karen DeYoung with the Washington Post.

Q: Thank you, Secretaries. This is a question to both of you. I wonder if you could tell us the location of the new access sites, and specifically how they position each of your forces better to hopefully deter and possibly confront Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and beyond in the region, and to address Philippine's specific concerns.

And more generally, it's no secret that relations between our two government were strained under the previous Philippines administration. I wonder if you could give us your assessment of the relationship now and -- and moving forward. Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, I'll start with the end of that, Karen, and my assessment, and I share this assessment with the leadership within our government -- is that this relationship is strong, and we will continue to work hard to -- to strengthen it further.

In terms of the EDCA locations, I just want to be clear that we don't -- we're not seeking permanent basing in the Philippines. As you heard us say in our statements here, EDCA is a cooperative agreement that enables rotational activities. And so it's a key pillar of our training and opportunities to strengthen our interoperability. And it also provides us the ability to respond effectively to humanitarian issues and also disaster relief and other types of prices, not just for the Philippines but for the region throughout.

And I'll turn it over to my colleague here, Secretary Galvez.

SEC. GALVEZ: Yes. We have agreed that, you know, the statement of the sites will be concluded once we have already made collaboration also with the local communities.

Because, when we -- when we make announcements, we need to -- need the local government, the governors and also the local police to be consulted. And the president wanted that all of our actions should be consulted with our local governments. And we wanted also to see that these agreements of the four EDCA sites will be finished soon. Because, we are also making some inspections on how we will do things, particularly that these areas identified are very vulnerable to climate change. And we have seen during the Typhoon Ondoy and (inaudible) that our ally, U.S., have deployed four C-130s and also Seahawks there, when, you know, the areas were isolated.

So what -- what we want is really to tell you that we will finish, you know, the identification soonest. And we are committed to a strong alliance. The president has said that our alliance now is more stronger and robust, as you said it this morning. And we are very confident that, working with Secretary Ano and other and with the (inaudible), we are looking forward that we will have a high drive of some activities with our allies.

And I would like to thank this opportunity. The visit of Secretary Lloyd Austin is very, very meaningful to us. This is symbolic to all of us that the U.S. will always be there for us.

STAFF: The next question will come from Chino Gaston of GMA7.

Q: Good afternoon, Secretaries. The U.S. being the biggest, or one of the biggest players in the West Philippine Sea. May we have your insight on the -- what people look at as more assertive activity of the Philippines and the West Philippine Sea in response to Chinese incursions within our EEZ, like Philippine ships shadowing the Chinese ships, which the U.S., we understand, routinely does?

And your take also, Mr. Secretary, on a code of conduct? Does that help, do you think? What's the U.S. take on the code of conduct which many see as merely China's attempt to have a claim of legitimacy that's included between code of conduct between Ashan and China?

STAFF: Thank you, sir.

SEC. AUSTIN: So we will continue to work with our allies and partners in the region who are like-minded and who value a free and open Indo-Pacific. And you've heard both of us talk about that today. That -- that's real important. You've also heard us talk about the rules-based international order and maintaining that, so, you know, the ability of nations to sail the seas and operate in international waters and operate in the international skies, I think, is really important. And we would look for countries to respect a rules-based international order.

And so that's our focus. And it's been our focus in the past, and it will remain our focus going forward.

STAFF: All right. Our next question will go to Jeff Sullivan from VOA.

Q: Secretary Galvez, U.S. officials have said one of the aims of these talks has been to help the Philippines with military modernization, and was wondering what type of military modernization help is the Philippines looking for, training, equipment, and if equipment, what sort of equipment, weapons and systems, does the Philippine military need to take on both the threats from terrorism and the growing concerns in the region, especially the aggressiveness from China?

And, Secretary Austin, what is the U.S. looking to provide, and when?

And, as part of the new EDCA agreement, how many more U.S. troops will be stationed in the Philippines, in addition to the 500 that are already here?

And if I may, Secretary Austin, following the decision to provide Ukraine with more tanks, Kyiv has been asking for more F-16s. A number of European allies have said that they think it's a good idea. Given that, is providing F-16s to Ukraine something that you're willing to reconsider?

SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks, Jeff. So, on the first piece, as I said earlier, EDCA is not about permanent basing here in the Philippines. It's about providing access that allows us to increase our training opportunities with our partners, our allies here. It's about having the ability to respond in a more effective fashion as we're faced -- as we're collectively faced with humanitarian assistance issues or natural -- or disaster response issues. And so this is an opportunity to increase our effectiveness, increase interoperability. It is not about permanent basing.

But it is a big deal. It's a really big deal, in that, you know, it provides us the opportunity, again, to interact a bit more in an effective way.

Regarding F-16s, I think, was your second question, right?

You know, Jeff, we're focused on providing Ukraine the capability that it needs to be effective in its upcoming anticipated counter-offensive in the spring. And so we're doing everything we can to get them the capabilities that they need right now to be effective on the battlefield.

You heard us talk about artillery, air defense. We provided and made a big push to provide more armored vehicle capability. And so all of those things are in play. And we're also increasing the training that we're providing the Ukrainians so that these higher-end platforms, they can effectively use in combat.

So that's our focus currently. And I think, you know, as we bring this together in support of the Ukrainians, it's going to provide a significant capability.

SEC. GALVEZ: Yeah, on your questions -- what are the things that we need in order to increase our capability, I believe it's more on the medium-lift capability, like what we have bought before for our disaster relief and search-and-rescue operations, because as you all know the effect of much training. We really need C-130s, and also those the Black Hawks that we bought that we configured to search-and-rescue capability, and also in our capability to defend our maritime domain. And I believe one of the requests of the chief of staff is really on how to detect even, you know, the coastal and the submarine capability down there in the West Philippine Sea.

And we also look at capability training, as Secretary Lloyd Austin, but we will modernize our alliance, and I believe, with the first-class training that we will be getting from the U.S. forces, and we will try to expand it. I believe we will have a strong army and strong armed forces.

As we have shared the same experience when we were in WESTMINCOM, the Special Operation Task Force that has stayed there since 2000, there is a rotational deployment of areas like in Basilan and also Sulu in the early days. These -- you know, these deployments are very useful to us, and very, very, very encouraging that we were able to -- you know, we were able to eradicate terrorism in the areas of Sulu, Basilan. And now, as we have boasted, Sulu now has a nightlife. Sulu before, you cannot see any people during 12:00 and 4:00 o'clock in the afternoon. They are all in their houses. Now, we have a freedom of movement.

And I think Secretary Austin's very much amazed that more than hundreds of Abu Sayyaf and terrorist jihadists have already been surrendered, and they're -- they are now leading a peaceful life. And I believe the tremendous help of the U.S. particularly also in the Battle of Marawi, which I've been involved with, I would like to truly say that this is my time to thank the U.S. government for helping us and not leaving us in that fight.

And the -- you know, the capability that they have brought to us, the eye in the sky, and also the C-130 that roaming around Marawi 24/7, that's capabilities very, very, also, useful to patrol our territory. And that's what I think what we need: the joint training and the joint experience that we have. It's been very, very robust, and we have seen the success of our counterterrorism effort down south.

STAFF: The last question will come from Karen Lema of Reuters.

Q: Hello, Secretary Austin. Hello, Secretary Galvez. I know you were already asked about the exercise, but if I could press on that question, if you could at least confirm whether these bases will be located in the northern part of the zone that's close to Taiwan and in Palau, just close to Spratlys. And what role will this site play in the event of a conflict over Taiwan?

And Secretary Austin, if I may ask you, because the North Korean Foreign minister -- Ministry issued a statement the day after the U.S.-South Korea drills. They said that the United States has pushed the situation to an extreme red line, and threatened to turn the peninsula into a huge war arsenal and a more critical war zone. Thank you.

SEC. GALVEZ: As I've said earlier, we will -- with help with the announcement of the EDCA sites because our, you know, our protocols and also our diplomatic notes have not been completed, so we need to complete all the staff work, including our concentration with the NGOs. So pardon me. I will -- I cannot -- I cannot really say where -- where the -- these -- the EDCA sites are located.

Please also, we want also to respect the consultations with our LGUs, and also, with Secretary (inaudible).

Q: Sir, I'm sorry, but when you say four locations, it's four bases. Because I think there was an early announcement --

SEC. GALVEZ: I think -- I think we have to remove the word "bases", because we called it EDCA sites.

Q: Okay, sites. Thanks.


SEC. AUSTIN: So your question was my reaction to the statement released --

Q: Yes, yes.

SEC. AUSTIN: -- by North Korea?

Q: Yes.

SEC. AUSTIN: I would simply say that, you know, our goal is and always has been to promote greater security and stability throughout the region. We remain committed to our extended deterrence commitment, and we're very serious about that when it comes to the ROK. And we will continue to work alongside our allies and train and ensure that we maintain credible and ready forces, so I'll stop there.

Q: Thank you, Secretary. Appreciate it.