By Jim Garamone
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana met today at the Pentagon to strengthen the deep alliance between the two countries.
This was their third meeting. Austin met Lorenzana and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in July 2021, and the leaders decided to sign the U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement, which has allowed continuing exercises between the two militaries.
"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," Austin told Lorenzana. "All of this is a testament to the strength of our alliance and our friendship, and it's also a tribute to your leadership."
Austin pointed to the size of the joint U.S.-Philippine Balikatan Exercise — the first since the beginning of the 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," Austin said. "And that just underscores our shared commitment to this alliance, and that commitment is ironclad."
Austin and Lorenzana discussed strengthening mutual defense treaty commitments, enhancing maritime cooperation, and improving interoperability in information sharing. "All these efforts underscore our promise to ensure that our alliance stands ready to tackle future challenges," Austin said.
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.
Balikatan 22, which started in mid-March, is a long standing annual bilateral military exercise conducted between the U.S. military, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The annual exercise a key component of the U.S.-Philippines alliance.
"The exercise features planning, operations, exchanges and activities that increase both our nation's military capabilities to provide for the mutual defense of the Philippine archipelago," Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said in a press briefing on March 29.
Exercise activities occur at multiple locations throughout the Philippines, consisting of three primary components; a bilateral staff exercise, joint interoperability events, and combined interoperability events, as well as humanitarian and civic assistance efforts.
The event involves more than 3,800 members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and 5,100 U.S. service members, the largest iteration of Balikatan to date. (DOD News)