US committed to help defend PH sovereign rights in EEZ

By Priam Nepomuceno

November 16, 2023, 2:14 pm

MANILA – The US is committed to helping the Philippines defend its sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), this was emphasized by the joint statement of Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr. and US Department of Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III on Wednesday night.

"Secretary Austin reiterated President (Joe) Biden’s message that the US defense commitment to the Philippines is ironclad, and emphasized that the United States stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Philippines in defending its sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its EEZ," the statement added.

Teodoro and Austin met in Jakarta, Indonesia during the sidelines of the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus.

"The Secretaries welcomed the historic momentum in US-Philippine ties and discussed their mutual commitment to strengthening the US-Philippine alliance, which has upheld peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region for over 70 years. They reaffirmed their countries’ shared vision of a free and open region grounded in transparency, the rule of law, respect for sovereignty, and the peaceful resolution of disputes," the joint statement said.

Teodoro and Austin also discussed the importance of preserving the rights of all nations to fly, sail, and operate safely and responsibly wherever international law allows.

"In this context, they denounced the recent harassment by vessels from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) towards Philippine Coast Guard and resupply vessels conducting lawful resupply operations around Second Thomas Shoal, as well as dangerous operational PRC maneuvers against US aircraft and ships lawfully operating in the South China Sea," the join statement added.

"Taking note of the concerns expressed about the PRC’s recent harassment by a growing number of foreign governments globally, they also emphasized that the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal Ruling is final and binding on the Parties and called on the PRC to abide by its obligations under international law," the statement said.

Teodoro and Austin also reaffirmed that the Mutual Defense Treaty extends to both countries' armed forces, public vessels, and aircraft -- including those of its Coast Guard -- anywhere in the Pacific, including the South China Sea.

The two officials also welcomed progress in implementing the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) including the recent completion of a USD24 million upgrade to the runway at Basa Airbase in Floridablanca, Pampanga. Both pledged to further accelerate EDCA implementation.

"They committed to explore further opportunities to strengthen bilateral operations and planning, including through the upcoming 'Balikatan' 2024 exercise, and noted their desire to expand multilateral activities with like-minded partners," it added. (PNA)