Pentagon has Marcos’ back ‘in South China Sea or elsewhere’ – Austin

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 4) — The United States and the Philippines have reaffirmed their commitment to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty during President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s official visit to Washington D.C.

Marcos on Wednesday was accorded full honors upon his arrival at the Pentagon, the headquarters of the US Department of Defense.

He met with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who told the president that the Pentagon “always has [his] back” as stated under the Mutual Defense Treaty.

The 72-year-old pact specifies that the Philippines and the United States will assist each other if one is attacked by a foreign force.

“And let me say once again that our Mutual Defense Treaty applies to armed attacks on our armed forces, coast guard vessels, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, including anywhere in the South China Sea,” Austin said.

“So make no mistake Mr. President, we will always have your back in the South China Sea or elsewhere in the region,” the American defense chief added.

The two leaders reaffirmed both countries’ “ironclad alliance commitments” under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, as well as their shared pact to defend against armed attacks on their aircraft, public vessels, and armed forces in the Pacific, including their respective Coast Guards, anywhere in the South China Sea.

“For decades, the Philippines had been an indispensable friend and ally to the United States. Our alliance is rooted in our common democratic values and draws strength from the deep bonds between our people. And I said before, Mr. President, we’re more than allies, we’re family,” Austin said.

In response, Marcos said, "I look forward to a very bright future between the Philippines and the United States. A future that is founded on the long, experienced and as you said, friendship and familial relationship, it’s the people-to-people, the people-to-people exchanges between our two countries have been ongoing at every level. And it is our job, I believe now, to strengthen that and to build upon.”

Austin and Marcos also lauded the conclusion of the US-PH bilateral defense guidelines, which outline their vision for alliance cooperation across all operational domains,

The two leaders further emphasized their shared goal to increase the pace of combined maritime activities, such as joint patrols, to support the Philippines’ lawful exercise of rights in the West Philippine Sea.

Austin praised Marcos for hosting the largest iteration of the Balikatan exercises, which were joined by more than 17,000 troops.

They also discussed plans to quickly put the four new sites under Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) into operation, which will enable combined training, exercises, and other cooperative activities such as maritime security and disaster relief.

Marcos on Wednesday also met with US Vice President Kamala Harris for brunch, where he said he is “as concerned as you could possibly be” over China’s provocation in the West Philippine Sea. 

Beijing’s aggressive tactics against Manila continued in disputed waters last week after the Philippine Coast Guard confirmed reports of a near-collision between a large Chinese Coast Guard ship and a Philippine patrol vessel at the Ayungin Shoal.

Earlier this week, US President Joe Biden welcomed Marcos to the White House, where he told the Philippine president that there is no better partner than him as both countries face problems.