US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (left) and Department of National Defense officer-in-charge Undersecretary Jose Faustino Jr. (right) (Screengrab from US Department of Defense video)

MANILA – The meeting between ranking Philippine and United States defense officials highlights the strong bilateral defense relations between the two nations.

"Our meeting highlighted the importance of the bilateral defense relations between the Philippines and the US, and we were able to discuss forward-looking, practical, and tangible ways on how to empower our partnership through improving defense cooperation across various lines of efforts," Department of National Defense (DND) officer-in-charge Undersecretary Jose Faustino Jr. said in a statement Friday.

He also added that his meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III at the US Indo-Pacific Command in Honolulu, Hawaii on Thursday (US time) also discussed "increasing interoperability" between the two armed forces.

Faustino also said this includes information sharing between the two militaries "with the end view of further enhancing the credibility of our alliance."

"The Philippines and the US have a shared history, spanning more than 70 years as friends, partners, and allies. In those years, our cooperation in political, economic, and socio-cultural relations has expanded, and our ties, including that between our defense establishments, have continued to grow stronger," he added.

Faustino also said the Philippines’ defense and security engagement with the US remains a key pillar of the two nations' bilateral relations.

"And we appreciate the US government’s willingness to work with the Philippine government as an equal, sovereign partner. Our two countries are working together to reach a common understanding of the importance of our defense alliance and what it means to recognize each other as equal partners in advancing our respective countries’ interests and in promoting peace and prosperity in the region," he added.

Faustino and Austin's meeting comes at the culmination of the planning cycle of the Philippines and the US' bilateral defense activities for next year.

"The bilateral meeting we held this afternoon was a welcome opportunity to discuss the way ahead for the Philippines-US alliance, based on the current priorities of our respective administrations, as discussed during the recent meeting between Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. and US President Joseph R. Biden in New York," the DND chief stressed.

This meeting marks the first in-person bilateral engagement between Faustino and Austin following their phone call last September 1. 

Both officials reaffirmed their commitment to the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), and discussed ways to further strengthen the defense alliance.

Faustino highlighted that the MDT is central to the Philippines' national defense policy, and recognized that both sides agreed on common views on how the alliance will respond to current security challenges.

The two sides also exchanged views on regional security developments and discussed opportunities for cooperation in the maritime domain, increasing interoperability through capacity and capability building activities, and modernizing and strengthening the alliance through information sharing.

Austin highlighted the commitment of both sides to work together through the robust implementation of bilateral exercises every year. 

He expressed confidence that the two countries can do more together by increasing the complexity of bilateral cooperation activities. 

Both sides also see the value of implementing the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in sustaining and developing individual and collective defense capabilities and responding to current needs.

The two officials underscored the importance of Philippines-US bilateral defense relations through discussions on forward-looking, practical, and tangible ways how to further enhance the credibility of the alliance. (PNA)