Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke with Philippine Officer in Charge of the Department of National Defense Carlito Galvez today to discuss ongoing efforts to strengthen the U.S.-Philippine alliance. They welcomed the recent groundbreaking ceremony for a $24 million runway rehabilitation project at Basa Air Base, one of the approved projects under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
Secretary Austin underscored the United States’ unwavering alliance commitment with the Philippines and reiterated that the Mutual Defense Treaty extends to Philippine armed forces, aircraft, and public vessels, including those of its Coast Guard, anywhere in the South China Sea. The two leaders condemned the PRC’s gray-zone activities, which interfere with the livelihoods of local Philippine communities and the rights of other claimant states that seek to operate lawfully in the South China Sea consistent with the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling.
The Secretaries noted with particular concern the PRC’s massing of more than 40 vessels—including a PLA Navy ship—around Thitu Island earlier this month within the feature’s 12-nautical mile territorial sea. The swarming of vessels falls on the heels of a dangerous incident last month, in which the PRC Coast Guard directed a military-grade laser against a Philippine vessel operating lawfully around Second Thomas Shoal, temporarily blinding some of the crew.
Secretary Austin and Secretary Galvez welcomed upcoming operational engagements between the U.S. and Philippine Armed Forces, including during Exercise Balikatan next month which will be the largest iteration of the exercise to date with more than 17,000 participating troops. They also discussed plans to conduct combined maritime activities in the South China Sea and agreed to review the full range of U.S.-Philippine maritime cooperation during the upcoming 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue.
Finally, Secretary Austin and Secretary Galvez discussed forthcoming U.S. support to contain and mitigate the ecological damage stemming from an oil spill off the coast of Mindoro Oriental, south of Manila. Secretary Austin also offered his condolences to Secretary Galvez for the recent murder of Governor Degamo and five other individuals.