MANILA, Philippines – Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III on Sunday (April 11) discussed the situation in the West Philippine Sea and some measures to deepen the defense cooperation of two countries amid recent tensions in the contested waters.
In a statement, the Department of National Defense (DND) said the defense chiefs of the two nations held a telephone conference to talk about the situation in the West Philippine Sea and recent developments in regional security.
DND Spokesperson Arsenio Andolong earlier said that the Philippines is “keeping all options open” but said they are closely coordinating with the United States government on the matter.
Andolong also said that both parties are “committed to undertake their obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty so that neither stands alone in these issues involving the two states’ inherent right of self-defense, individually and collectively.”
The United States and the Philippines signed the mutual defense treaty in 1951.
In a separate statement, Austin said he spoke with his counterpart to reaffirm their commitment to the alliance between the US and the Philippines.
“I had a productive call with SND @del_lorenzana to discuss challenges in the South China Sea and the need for unity in ensuring security and stability in the region. #FreeandopenIndoPacific,” he said.
The DND said both defense chiefs “are looking forward to the conduct of Exercise Balikatan, which was canceled last year.”
Austin also reiterated the importance of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two nations and “hopes that it would be continued.”
“Secretary Lorenzana committed to discuss the matter with the President as the final approval lies with him,” the DND said.
Also during the phone conversation, Lorenzana sought Austin’s assistance to speed up the delivery of Moderna-developed COVID-19 vaccine doses that were procured by the Philippine government.
“To which, Secretary Austin replied that he would look into the issue and bring it to the attention of the office concerned,” the DND said.