U.S. and Philippine defense and foreign affairs leaders held the nations’ first “two-plus-two” meeting in Washington, D.C., April 30 amid the rise of common challenges and the growing security and economic importance of the Asia-Pacific region.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta met with their Philippine counterparts, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Secretary of National Defense Voltaire Gazmin, at the State Department to discuss the longstanding bilateral partnership and new areas of cooperation.
“With the growing security and economic importance of the Asia- Pacific,” Clinton said during a press conference after the meeting, “the United States is actively working to strengthen our alliances, build new partnerships and engage more systematically in the region’s multilateral institutions.”
Panetta described the meetings as “very successful,” saying they discussed ways the two governments can work more closely together “to strengthen the important alliance that we have, to deepen our engagements, and to find shared solutions to the joint security goals that we share.”
The U.S.-Philippine relationship, he added, “is an alliance and a friendship built on historic ties, common democratic values and a shared desire to provide our two peoples a prosperous and more secure future.”
Del Rosario said the consultations ” … opened an avenue for us to consider ways of fine-tuning our relations as we adapt to changing circumstances, both in our region and the world at large. Thus the focal points of our consultations were how best to keep our alliance relevant and responsive to each other’s needs.”
Militarily, the U.S. and Philippine armed forces conduct nearly 20 combined exercises a year targeting humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and maritime security, officials said.
The collaboration includes the 28th iteration of Exercise Balikatan, meaning “shoulder to shoulder.” During the exercise, which began April 16 on Luzon and Palawan islands, U.S. and Philippine troops conducted humanitarian civic assistance projects, a natural disaster response command post exercise and field training exercises.
The Philippines deploys nearly 1,000 troops, police and civilians to U.N. peacekeeping missions every year, and the United States supports those with funding and training.
More than 100 ship visits were made to the Philippines last year, and in June the U.S. hospital ship USNS Mercy will offer medical, dental and veterinary services to Filipinos on the islands of Samar, Basilan and Sulu, officials said. U.S. and Philippine troops are planning to work together to build and renovate school and health facilities.
During the past fiscal year, more than 500 Philippine service members completed programs through the U.S. military system, and Philippine Military Academy cadets have been accepted into each of the major U.S. service academies.
“We have reached a critical juncture in our alliance where our concerns in both traditional and nontraditional aspects of our security have become much more intertwined,” Gazmin said.
“While we are sustaining the gains for successful efforts in various areas of cooperation,” he added, “we need to intensify our mutual trust to uphold maritime security and the freedom of navigation, and thereby contribute to the peace and stability of the region.”
Panetta emphasized how deeply the United States values its partnership with the Philippines and the importance of the Mutual Defense Treaty signed in 1951 “that remains the cornerstone of our security relationship.”
Working together, the secretary said, U.S. and Philippine forces are countering terrorist groups in the southern Philippines, and the United States will improve the archipelago’s maritime presence and capabilities this year by transferring a second high-endurance Navy cutter.
“We are working to expand and improve joint [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] programs and our ability to counter cyber attacks,” Panetta said.
The new U.S. defense strategy the Obama administration unveiled earlier this year, the secretary said, recognized the Asia-Pacific an important region on which America’s future security depends.
“As a resident Pacific power,” Panetta said, “the United States is committed to a rule-based regional order that promotes viable and vibrant trade and freedom of navigation.”
The United States, he added, is “enhancing our defense cooperation and expanding security partnerships throughout the region in order to sustain peace and stability. And we are committed to continuing our robust stabilizing presence in that region.”