WASHINGTON -- Pledging to strengthen the partnership between longtime allies, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Jose C. Faustino Jr., officer-in-charge of the Philippine Department of National Defense, met at Camp Smith, Hawaii.
The talks between the two defense leaders are based on the shared vision "of an open secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific, free from coercion or bullying," Austin said during remarks after the meeting. "The United States remains unwavering in our support for a strong and independent Philippines that can defend its sovereignty, ensure prosperity for its people and strengthen security in the region."
The U.S. military works closely with the Philippines. An example of this is the extensive exercise program. Austin said the two countries participate in more than 300 exercises annually that range in size from the huge Balikatan exercise to port visits to exchanges of experts. "This cooperation goes on every day, and it supports our alliance and our obligations under the mutual defense treaty," he said.
All of this is covered under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in 2014. "Our U.S. and Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement allows us to continue working closely together and it lets us respond quickly to disasters and crises," the secretary said.
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"Our two countries are working together to reach a common understanding of the importance of our defense alliances and what it means to recognize each other as equal partners in advancing our respective countries interests and in promoting peace and prosperity in the region," Faustino said.
The alliance, though, is deeper than simply the mutual defense treaty, Austin said. There are profound bonds between the people of the Philippines and the United States. "This includes strong friendships between our countries' uniformed personnel and our veteran communities, and our proud diaspora communities immeasurably strengthen our two proud democracies and our partnership," he said.
The United States and the Philippines have a long history together. "We fought together, we trained together," Austin said. "We are allies, … but we consider ourselves to be more family than anything else. And I'm proud to say … that I cannot imagine a day where the United States and the Philippines aren't allies. It is who we are."
Faustino and Austin said the priority areas for the alliance included strengthening mutual defense treaty commitments, enhancing maritime cooperation and building on the mutual defense posture. They also said it was necessary to improve interoperability and information sharing.
"By deepening our cooperation and modernizing our alliances, we can help secure the Philippines' future, tackle regional challenges and promote peace and security in the Indo-Pacific," the secretary said.