US reaffirms ‘ironclad’ commitment to PHL amid row in South China Sea

NEWLY CONFIRMED Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez (center) in a file photo with former Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (right) and US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III at the Pentagon in Washington DC.

WASHINGTON D.C. – For the second time, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and his US counterpart, Lloyd J. Austin III met at the Pentagon in Washington DC on April 19 (Philippine time) in  another bilateral meeting on enhancing the two nations’ alliance.
Reports from Washington indicated that during the meeting, Austin affirmed anew his country’s commitment to Philippine security under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty amid new tensions in the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea due to incursions by China in the Philippine exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
In a statement, the U.S. Defense Department reiterated that America’s commitment to Philippine security is “ironclad,” and that the two countries’ mutual defense treaty commitments extend to Philippine armed forces, public vessels, and aircraft in the South China Sea.
In 2016, the United Nations-backed arbitration court invalidated Beijing’s expansive claims in the South China Sea.

Austin and Lorenzana affirmed the vital importance of ensuring peace and stability in the South China Sea, the US Defense Department added.

The two defense officials also agreed to strengthen their MDT commitments through the development of bilateral defense guidelines, enhance maritime cooperation, and improve interoperability and information sharing by exercising new capabilities.

Lorenzana and Austin also tackled the importance of acting in unison to condemn Russian aggression and stand behind Ukraine.
Lorenzana said his latest meeting with Austin is also his farewell call as he ends his term as defense chief in 72 days.

“At the Pentagon with US Department of Defense (DoD) Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III for another bilateral meeting to discuss ways to continue to deepen cooperation under the US-Philippines alliance,” he said on his Facebook page.

It was the third time Lorenzana personally met with Austin – once in Manila and twice in Washington DC.

The two discussed strengthening mutual defense treaty commitments, enhancing maritime cooperation, and improving interoperability in information sharing.

A statement released by the US defense department said Austin lauded Lorenzana for advancing some of the alliance’s initiatives.

“I know that our teams have been meeting frequently… over the past year, and they’ve done a great deal to advance some of the forward-looking alliance initiatives that you and I have discussed,” he said.

He added that this is a testament to the strength of the US-Philippines alliance and friendship and Lorenzana’s leadership.

Austin pointed to the size of the joint US-Philippine Exercise Balikatan – the first since the beginning of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic – as an example of the vitality of the alliance between the nations.

“Despite the pandemic, this was one of the largest of these exercises ever, including exercising a new range of capabilities,” he said. “And that just underscores our shared commitment to this alliance, and that commitment is ironclad.”

Austin said Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine points to the need for countries to stand together to defend the international, rules-based architecture that has served the world well since the end of World War II. (Jeanne Michael Penaranda)