The head of the US Indo-Pacific Command has affirmed the United States’ commitment to the seven-decades old Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) which the Philippines and US signed in 1951.
In his second visit to the Philippines Monday, US Indo-Pacific Command head Admiral John Aquilino met with senior government and military officials to commemorate the treaty's 70th anniversary this month.
“Our alliance represents the mutual trust that is central to our enduring friendship, and this trust is a necessity in order to confront the security challenges in this theater,” he said.
The Philippine military in turn expressed its gratitude for the government’s decision to keep its Visiting Forces Agreement with the US.
“The (Armed Forces of the Philippines) is immensely grateful for the decision of the President and AFP commander-in-chief, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, to recall the note verbale on the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” AFP chief of staff Lt. Gen. Jose Faustino Jr. said in a message during the Camp Aguinaldo visit of US INDOPACOM chief Aquilino.
Faustino’s message was read by AFP Inspector General Lt. Gen. Franco Nemesio Gacal, as the chief went under quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19.
This developed as US Vice President Kamala Harris, in Singapore on an official visit, accused Beijing on Tuesday of intimidation in hotly disputed waters, as she sought to rally Asian allies against China and shore up US credibility in the wake of the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Also, the BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151), the Philippine Navy's new guided-missile frigate, joined two Indian Navy ships in a maritime exercise at the West Philippine Sea Monday.
The BRP Antonio Luna, guided-missile destroyer INS Ranvijay (D-55) and guided-missile corvette INS Kora (P-61) performed several operational maneuvers off the northwestern coast of Palawan.
"Both navies were very much satisfied with the outcome of these interactions that focus on enhanced interoperability and collaboration," Naval Forces West (NFW) acting commander Marine Col. Antonio Mangoroban Jr. said in a statement Monday.
The MDT, signed by the two nations on Aug. 30, 1951, called for both countries to support each other in case of armed attacks on each other's territories, armed forces, public vessels and aircraft from athird party country.
“Both of our nations have made it clear that we are committed to the Alliance, and that we remain prepared to fight alongside and defend each other using all of our capabilities to preserve the region’s peace and stability,” Aquilino added.
The American military official met with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and AFP's Gacal, who represented Chief-of-Staff Faustino Jr.
Gacal said the meeting was "an opportunity to advance our mutual security interests and manifests both Armed Forces' commitment to the alliance even in the midst of challenges brought by the pandemic."
The trip marks Aquilino's first visit to the Philippines as commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command.
He previously visited the Philippines as Commander of the US Navy Pacific Fleet in August 2018, meeting with Lorenzana and other Philippine defense officials to discuss opportunities to enhance military cooperation.
The Indian Navy ships were deployed to improve maritime security coordination with partner nations such as the Philippines which India has had a long-standing relationship for 72 years.
Since 1998, regular visits by Indian navy vessels to the Philippines have highlighted the two maritime nation-states' defense cooperation.
The exercise was conducted in a contactless manner in compliance with the prevailing pandemic guidelines and health and safety protocols were strictly observed.
After the exercise, the Indian naval ships are scheduled to call at Manila Port for replenishment.
Recently, BRP Antonio Luna participated in the 19th Southeast Asia Maritime and Cooperation 2021.
Since its commissioning, the ship has been participating in regular drills with foreign navies to improve its capabilities.
It is currently assigned to the NFW under the AFP Western Command and is the sister ship of the BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150), the country's first missile frigate.
“As a newly-commissioned vessel of the Philippine Navy, BRP Antonio Luna is anticipated to be at par with her foreign counterparts and it is a breath of fresh air to see our modern navy partake in these maritime partnership exercises,” Mangoroban said.