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US commitment to Philippines 'ironclad,' says US Defense chief

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III on Tuesday reaffirmed his country's commitment to its alliance with the Philippines, which he described as "ironclad."

During a meeting with Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana at the Pentagon, Austin noted the recently concluded Balikatan joint military exercises in the Philippines.

"Despite the pandemic, this was one of the largest of these exercises ever, including exercising a new range of capabilities," a statement from the US Defense Department quoted Austin as saying.

"And that just underscores our shared commitment to this alliance, and that commitment is ironclad," Austin said.

Some 8,900 soldiers participated in the Balikatan exercises between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the US military last March 28 to April 8. Of the total number, 3,800 were from the AFP and 5,100 were American soldiers.

Austin's meeting with Lorenzana last Tuesday was their third. Austin first met with Lorenzana and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in July 2021 to discuss the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the US and the Philippines.

The July 2021 meeting resulted in Duterte recalling his decision to abrogate the VFA.

"I know that our teams have been meeting frequently … over the past year, and they've done a great deal to advance some of the forward-looking alliance initiatives that you and I have discussed," Austin told Lorenzana during their recent meeting.

"All of this is a testament to the strength of our alliance and our friendship, and it's also a tribute to your leadership," he added.

The US Defense Department statement said Austin and Lorenzana discussed strengthening mutual defense treaty commitments, enhancing maritime cooperation, and improving interoperability in information sharing.

"All these efforts underscore our promise to ensure that our alliance stands ready to tackle future challenges," Austin said. —Dave Llavanes Jr./KBK, GMA News