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Joint Press Conference by Secretary Carter and Secretary Gazmin in Manila, Philippines


PHILIPPINE DEFENSE SECRETARY VOLTAIRE GAZMIN:  -- the year 2016 promises to be a particularly productive year for Philippines-U.S. defense relations.

We began this year with the 2+2 Ministerial Consultation in January 2016 in Washington, D.C.  The regular convening of such consultations, which allow our countries' defense and foreign affair secretaries to discuss security, political, economic and other aspects of our bilateral relations reflect the way our longstanding alliance has evolved -- from military-to-military operations to high level policy discussions.

The visit of Secretary Carter enables us to build on the productive discussions we had since that meeting.  While our senior and working level officials and planners have been discussing the details of –how to operationalize our shared guidance into tangible outcomes, through the bilateral strategic dialogue and the mutual defense board, security engagement board, our ministerial level discussions provide policy guidance, and ensure that our endeavors are implemented effectively.

We need to further enhance our security partnership to address common security concerns for our mutual benefit.  

It was also in the same month of -- or April, when we signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, or the EDCA, in 2014.

With the Supreme Court's decision regarding its constitutionality, we are currently focused on ensuring that the implementation of EDCA will further deepen the Philippines-U.S. alliance, while enabling us to build a credible defense posture.

Our planners are working on identifying the technical requirements for the selected sites, where agreed locations could be developed.  We are optimistic that EDCA would significantly contribute to our efforts in enhancing the interoperability between the armed forces of the Philippines and the U.S. Pacific Command, or PACOM, by developing the facilities that could be used for our approved Philippines-U.S. activities.

Secretary Carter's visit also coincides with the conduct of the biggest Philippines-U.S. military exercise, Balikatan, which continues to enable our armed forces to train together for addressing both traditional and untraditional security concerns, to include territorial defense, maritime security and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

Also, it allows us to further enhance multilateral security cooperation with other regional partners, as well as other security agencies by having observers as well as participants in the humanitarian components of the exercise.

We also continue to remind our planners that our activities should be of high value and great impact.

Further, to our robust cooperation on training, we recently began the conduct of joint patrols, as we continue to explore going beyond towards training -- beyond training towards Philippines-U.S. joint operations.

In particular, we conducted such joint patrols as part of our passing exercises, or the pass exe.  Our planners are examining ways on how to make such patrols as part of our regular activities.

We believe that such operations will help us fulfill our priority to develop our maritime security and maritime domain awareness capabilities, which are currently on top of our agenda.

In addition to joint activities, we are also working on projects that are focused on attaining our goals on developing a credible defense posture, and maritime security and maritime domain awareness capabilities.

As we continue to utilize foreign military financing, and access defense articles grants, we are also working on the identification of priority projects under the new maritime security initiative for fiscal year 2017, while ensuring that the estimated 42 U.S. million dollars worth of allocations for the Philippines out of the $50 million for five Southeast Asian countries for fiscal year 2016 will be utilized optimally.

After nearly 65 years, the Philippines and U.S. security interests have become increasingly intertwined, as our alliance continues to deepen.  As such, the Department of National Defense and its bureaus will continue to work closely with our counterparts to ensure that our defense and military relations continue to contribute to our overall bilateral partnership, as well as to regional security.

We believe that the capable defense establishment will not only enable us to perform our national mandate, but will also help us do our part in the maintenance of peace and stability beyond our borders.

Thank you.

STAFF:  Thank you very much, Secretary Gazmin.

We will now hear the opening statement of U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.

First of all, thanks to my good friend and counterpart, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.  I've met and worked together with Voltaire on many occasions over a long time, and he's a capable leader for the Philippines and strong partner for our alliance.

He and I met today a little bit earlier with Foreign Affairs Secretary Almendras, who is present, I believe.  And I appreciate that.

And I -- and I met earlier, also today with President Aquino.  I appreciate that, as well.

I thanked them all for their leadership here, and their long-time friendship with the United States.

We had productive discussions about the many steps forward we're taking together, including a few new ones I'll announce in a moment.

These are based on the recent Philippine decision on our Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, EDCA, and the commencement of the U.S. maritime security initiative, which together occasion my visit here at this time.

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.

And of course, not all of that change is positive.  Indeed, in the South China Sea, China's actions in particular are causing anxiety and raising regional tensions.

Countries across the Asia-Pacific are voicing concern with China's land reclamation, which stands out in size and scope, as well as its militarization in the South China Sea.

They're voicing those concerns publicly and privately, at the highest levels, in regional meetings and also in global fora.

And many of those countries, both longstanding allies and new partners are reaching out anew to the United States to uphold the rules and principles that have allowed the region to thrive for some many decades.

Rules and principles that include peaceful resolution of disputes, the ability of countries to make their own security and economic choices, free from coercion and intimidation, and freedom of navigation and overflight. And we are answering that call. 

We're standing with these countries. We're helping them build capacity. We're affirming our commitment to there and the region's security with increased posture. We're supporting their request for intensified regional diplomacy, not increase tensions. We're standing up for those rules and principles. 

We're making important new investments in U.S. defense technology and we're continuing to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. And we always will. Here any everywhere. Nothing will deter us from defending our core interests and freedom of navigation and overflight.

Of course our two countries share much history and many common ties with this nation and its people. And as President Obama has made clear, our commitment to the Philippines is ironclad. This alliance, and others like it, nurtured over decades, tested in crisis and built on shared interests, values and sacrifice 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.

Our alliance recently took two major steps forward that make this visit so fruitful, as I said. First, the EDCA and second, the U.S. Maritime Security Initiative. As part of the historic progress we are making in EDCA's implementation, we're supporting the modernization of the Philippines Armed Forces and strengthening our mutual defense, an arrangement that will allow U.S. forces, at the invitation of the government of the Philippines, to conduct high-impact high-value rotational training exercises and activities. 

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. We recently announced the initial EDCA-agreed locations where we will make complementary investments to upgrade infrastructure. 

A raid throughout the archipelago, these five sites will each offer the opportunity for us to do more together and I will visit one of them, Antonio Bautista Airbase, in the southwest on Palawan. 

Now the maritime security initiative, which I announced at last year's Shangri-La dialogue, represents a $425 million five-year commitment by the Department of Defense to help countries like the Philippines to share information, identify potential threats and work collaboratively to address common challenges in the region's waters. 

We've just released the first tranche of this money and nearly 80 percent of it -- a little bit more than 80 percent of it -- almost $42 million will be coming here to the Philippines. With these steps, the U.S.-Philippines alliance is as close as it has been in years. 

Tomorrow I will speak at the closing ceremony at Exercise Balikatan 2016. Our premier bilateral exercise with the Philippines. Balikatan means, and I say this because some of our American press might not be familiar, shoulder to shoulder. In this past week, more than 7000 personnel from both of our countries have stood shoulder to shoulder getting better by working together. 

Like EDCA and the Maritime Security Initiative, this year's exercise has once again enhanced our alliance and the defense of the Philippines. With this progress and at a time of change in the region and challenges to the principles our two nations hold dear, we've agreed to three additional steps that we're announcing today. 

First, last month we commenced joint maritime patrols in the South China Sea. These patrols, an alliance decision at our two-plus-two ministerial, which Voltaire and I held with our respective secretaries of foreign affairs in Washington in January. These patrols will continue to help build our interoperability and improve the Philippines Navy, even as these patrols contribute to the safety and security of the region's waters. 

Second, a contingent of U.S. aircraft and their crews and pilots that participated in Balikatan will remain behind at Clark Airbase. We'll do this, in fact, on a regular basis. The initial contingent, five A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft, three H60G Pave Hawk helicopters and one MC-130H Combat Talon aircraft. 

And 200 airmen, including pilots, will continue joint training, conduct flight operations in the area, including the South China Sea, and lay the foundation for joint air patrols to complement ongoing maritime patrols.

And third, a command-and-control node made up of American personnel here for the exercise will also remain behind. They will continue exercising combined U.S.-Philippines command-and-control capabilities and support increased cooperative activities in the region. 

With these steps we're making a strong alliance even stronger. 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. And that is not a new commitment. That's not something new this year. But it is one we have met decade after decade. 

My first stop in the Philippines today was to lay a wreath at the Manila American Cemetery where I saw row after row, a striking reminder of the number of Americans who have fought with our friends and allies, including the Philippines, 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. 

They were not alone, however. Members of the Philippines Armed Forces have done the same. And I would like to express my condolences on behalf of the United States for the combat losses suffered last week. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and to the Philippines Armed Forces and to the entire nation.

Like those buried at the American Cemetery, these fallen Philippines allies have made the ultimate sacrifice. 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. 

Thank you.

SEC. GAZMIN:  Thank you very much, Secretary Carter. The floor will now entertain four questions, two from the international media and two from our local media.

STAFF:  For the first question, we call on Michael Schmidt of the New York Times.  Please, there's a microphone in the back.

Q:  Secretary Carter, are the initiatives you announced here today and in India earlier this week that obviously have China in mind, part of a containment-like policy towards China, similar to the one that the U.S. had towards Russia during the Cold War?  And if not, why?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, what we've done with India, what we're doing today with the Philippines, what we do with almost every country in the region is part of a pattern that goes back decades.  And the American approach is fundamentally different from one of exclusion.  Our approach for decades has been one of inclusion.

It is we who have encouraged a network of countries in a region that doesn't have formal security structures; where everyone can have the peace and stability that allows everyone to rise and prosper.  That's the system America stands for.  That's the system that so many other countries find that they stand for, too, and therefore a natural attraction to us.

That's the case with India.  That's the case with the Philippines.  And that pattern of decades and taking the next step to increase the military expression of our solidarity is what my visit to India was about and my visit to the Philippines is about.

Now, there's no question that there's concern in the region about China's behavior and China's self-isolating behavior.  And I just want to make it clear that's a real phenomenon.  But the cause of that is Chinese behavior, not America.  America's policy continues to be one that's valued on the principles of peaceful resolution of disputes; lawful settlement of things like territorial disputes in the South China Sea or anywhere else; freedom of navigation; freedom of commerce.  These are all the things that the United States stands for.

Now, countries that don't stand for those things or don't stand with those things are going to end up isolating themselves.  But that will be self-isolation, not isolation by us.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  Our second question will come from Aurea Calica from the Philippines Star. 

Q:  Sir, can you clarify where the joint patrols will be held?  Will they be in the disputed areas or Philippines-claimed areas?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, I can't talk about operational matters, but I'll give you a general answer to your question.  And that is that our military-to-military activities plan for a broad range of situations -- maritime activities, natural disasters, accidents, incidents, provocations. 

And from the American point of view, our alliance covers all of Philippines territory.  Article IV of our mutual defense agreement makes that quite clear.  And so, our military-to-military activities cover a wide range of contingencies.  And also, I should say cover all domains, from the maritime to the air, as I described joint air patrols to complement joint naval patrols, and to Balikatan which has a strong ground-forces element, as we'll get to see when I visit with the forces there tomorrow.

So it's a very wide spectrum of activities and contingencies that we work on together.

Q:  A follow-up, sir.  What do you know about the reported plan to -- what do you know about the reported plan of China to reclaim Scarborough Shoal?  And what did you discuss with President Aquino regarding the South China Sea?

SEC. CARTER:  Of course, we discussed the South China Sea with the president on this occasion. On other occasions he's, of course, discussed it with President Obama.  

With respect to Chinese claims in the South China Sea and with respect to the claims of all other parties to disputed territories in the South China Sea, the American position is very clear.  It's been consistent for a long time, which is these things should be settled peacefully and lawfully. 

We recognize there are these disputes; that they go back in time.  We don't take sides in them per se.  We're on the side of peaceful resolution and we're on the side of lawful disposition.  That's where the UNCLOS decision, which is expected sometime soon, is so important, and where the United States -- we're fully behind a lawful settlement of these kinds of disputes.  

So that's where America stands with respect to the claims by China or any other country on any of these disputed land features.

STAFF:  Thank you, sir.

Our next question will come from Tara Copp of Stars and Stripes.

Q:  Thank you.

Secretary Carter, China has repeatedly sent advanced aircraft and missile defense systems to the Paracel Islands.  And its recent activity suggests it may militarize Scarborough Shoal.  With the deployment of U.S. forces here, is the U.S. risking military escalation between the U.S. and China over these interests, over these mutual Philippine and U.S. interests?  

And then a clarification on the troops.  Will this be a heel-to-toe rotational presence at these bases?  Will the forces that are there be frequently replaced with follow-on forces?

And then --

SEC. CARTER:  Go ahead.

Q:  And for Minister Gazmin, with the U.S. forces that are deployed here, what is your expectation for the defense of Scarborough Shoal?  And what else might you need from the U.S. to help defend mutual U.S. defense interests here?

Thank you.

SEC. CARTER:  Well, with respect to the first part of your question, the things that we're doing here are part of a pattern that goes back decades.  They're by the invitation of an alliance partner.  We do not want incidents associated with these land disputes.  We're not a party to them, but we don't -- we're trying to tamp down tensions here.

We can't do that by ourselves.  Everybody else needs to be participant in that.  And more broadly, of course, we're strengthening our military role in the region, both unilaterally and through this wide range of partnerships and alliances we have.

But that isn't in order to provoke anything.  It's to continue to stand with the system of principles and peace and security that has allowed this region to prosper for many decades.  That's the American approach, not an approach of provocations, tamping down tensions, and getting people to work together and not work against one another.  That's the American approach, based on our values and the values of our friends and allies here.

With respect to heel-to-toe, that's not really the phrase we're using with respect to this.  There is going to be regular periodic presence here of American forces at all the five EDCA sites, plus I should say -- of course, we're discussing additional sites as well.

So, this is a work in progress.  This is a dynamically evolving alliance military capability that EDCA has allowed us to inaugurate.  We're taking these important steps at five locations; I may announce three additional steps today.  And there will be a regular periodic presence here of American forces, but it may change in its nature, and timing and duration, depending upon what we and the Filipinos decide is optimal.

SEC. GAZMIN:  Well, for the Philippines, we expect the U.S. forces to help us in our maritime awareness -- maritime domain awareness through the exchange of information.  And that we expect them to -- with their presence here, it will deter uncalled for actions by the Chinese.

STAFF:  Okay, thank you, Tara.

For our last question, coming from Nikko Dizon of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Q:  Good afternoon, sirs.  There was a news report this morning, saying that the ISIS claimed responsibility for the April 9th attack in Basilan.

Have the two governments verified this, sir?  And if so, is there an ISIS base here in the Philippines, and what would be the impact on the regional security, if ever, sir?

SEC. GAZMIN:  Well, the group in Basilan is trying to organize and be affiliated with ISIS.

But so far, our information says that there are no -- there is no ISIS -- formal ISIS organization here in the Philippines.

SEC. CARTER:  And I'll just add to that, not from a local perspective, but around the world, you do see the phenomenon in several places of groups that formerly existed and were conducting terrorist operations who affiliate with, or rebrand in association with ISIL.

So, we see that in other places, as well.  That's one of the reasons why it's so important that ISIL be destroyed in Syria and Iraq, which I'm confident we will do with our coalition partners.

But because -- and that will demonstrate that there is no such thing as an Islamic State based upon this hateful ideology.

So, it is a worldwide phenomenon of others sort of associating themselves with ISIL, and that may be what we're seeing here by groups in the Philippines.

If so, that would be consistent with a pattern we've seen around the world, and just another reason why it's important to defeat ISIL, which we will do.

Q:  Sir, may I have a clarification.

STAFF:  Just one follow-up.

Q:  Yes, just one follow-up.

You mentioned, sirs, that there would be troops, American troops who will be staying behind those who joined the Balikatan and be staying behind.

Is this part of the EDCA already?  Under what?

SEC. GAZMIN:  This is part of the EDCA in -- the implementation of the EDCA.

Some forces will be left behind on a rotational basis.

Q:  Okay.  Thank you, sir.

SEC. CARTER:  Thank you.

STAFF:  Okay.  Thank you very much.  This concludes our joint press conference.

Thank you, Secretary Carter.  Thank you, Secretary Gazmin.