US still PH’s major ally in defense build-up: DND

MANILA — The US remains the Philippines’ most supportive partner when it comes to beefing up its defense capabilities.

“As a treaty ally, the US has been one of the most supportive and active in contributing to Philippine efforts to build our defense capabilities. We recognize with deepest appreciation the US’ close partnership as we both work on ensuring that the alliance remains relevant in responding to the challenges of the 21st century through various programs, namely the Foreign Military Financing (FMF), Foreign Military Sales (FMS), Maritime Security Initiative (MSI), among others, as well as non-materiel support in the form of exercises, training activities, and advice,” Defense Undersecretary Cardozo Luna said in his speech during the US-Philippines Think Tank Conference held at The Peninsula Hotel, Makati City Thursday, which was forwarded to reporters.

Luna also said this longstanding alliance is rooted on the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between Manila and Washington.

“This remains to be the sole defense treaty of the Philippines with another country and is the longest formal defense agreement we have. It has withstood the test of time and has been regularly reaffirmed during both formal and informal engagements, notably during the 60th anniversary of the MDT during which the Manila Declaration was signed. The treaty has been recognized by Philippine institutions, with no less than the Philippine Supreme Court recognizing that the treaty continues to be a ‘valid source of international obligation’,” he added.

The DND official also noted that the recent passage of the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act by the US Congress also reaffirms the alliance between the two countries, along with other US allies in the Pacific.

The MDT is also the basis of two countries’ alliance and continuing joint defense capability programs.

“However, as with all other defense agreements, reviewing agreements is a normal course of action, especially since the MDT has been in force for over 60 years. Our Secretary (of Defense DelfinLorenzana) wishes to ensure that the frameworks we have in place continue to serve the mutual interests of both parties,” Luna said.

“As we look back in the history of the alliance, it is evident that the MDT has been able to withstand the passage of time because both sides continued to work together in ensuring that the partnership is able to adapt with the changes in the security environment. While the alliance is considered ‘iron-clad,’ as pronounced by our US counterparts in various fora, our two sides remain flexible in finding ways to address contemporary security challenges,” he added.

While traditional security was initially the main focus of the alliance through the Mutual Defense Board (MDB), the alliance was able to address non-traditional security concerns when the security environment and the very definition of security underwent changes after the Cold War.

Through the establishment of the Security Engagement Board (SEB) in 2006, both US and Philippines militaries, along with other civilian security agencies, are able to work together to address several lines of efforts aside from mutual defense to include maritime challenges, disasters, terrorism, cyber issues, peacekeeping concerns, and transnational crimes. Indeed, areas of cooperation between our defense establishments have expanded and continue to be enhanced.

“With the expansion of areas of cooperation, we continue to ensure that our bilateral exercises remain mutually beneficial. Since the inaugural Two-Plus-Two Ministerial Consultations, the Philippines has consistently maintained that our activities should be of high value and great impact. Since the start of the current administration, we have sustained large-scale exercises, such as the Balikatan, which continues to test the operational skill sets and interoperability between our armed forces. At the same time, we have developed exercises, such as KAMANDAG, SamaSama, Salaknib, among others, that will enable us to respond to the Philippines’ pressing security concerns,” the defense official said. (With reports from Darwin C. Pesco/PNA)