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Austin to Marcos: We have your back in South China Sea, elsewhere in region

WASHINGTON —United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin made a commitment to President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. that the US would always be ready to defend the Philippines when it comes to territorial issues in the South China Sea as well as in other regions.

Austin said President Joe Biden has maintained the US' “ironclad” commitment to protect the Philippines.

"And let me tell you 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," he added.

Austin said the Philippines and the US share a common vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific "because a region governed by rules and rights help provide security and prosperity for our two countries and for the whole region."

Austin said he looks forward to having discussions on how to make the alliance between the two countries stronger, noting the addition of Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement sites.

He would also tackle the new bilateral defense guidelines.

Austin and Marcos also reaffirmed the two countries' commitments under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and their shared resolve to defend against armed attacks on their aircraft, public vessels, and armed forces – to include their respective Coast Guards – in the Pacific, including anywhere in the South China Sea.

Austin and Marcos further discussed plans to swiftly operationalize the four new EDCA sites in Northern Luzon and Palawan.

In April, Malacañang announced four new EDCA sites: Naval Base Camilo Osias in Sta Ana, Cagayan; Lal-lo Airport in Lal-lo, Cagayan; Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela; and Balabac Island in Palawan.

Existing EDCA sites are Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu, and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City.

Meanwhile, Austin stated anew the US Defense Department's commitment to bolstering the Philippines’ defense capabilities as the allies develop a Security Sector Assistance Roadmap to guide shared defense modernization investments over the next five to 10 years. 

The American official also highlighted near-term plans for the US to transfer several defense platforms to the Philippines as part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' continued modernization efforts.

Marcos met Austin at the Pentagon on Wednesday morning.

Marcos, who's on an official visit, also marched and trooped the line at the Department of Defense grounds.—LDF, GMA Integrated News