The Philippines and the United States made a renewed commitment to strengthen their partnership in various areas of mutual interest following a meeting between President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Malacañang on Thursday.
President Duterte and Secretary Austin had “an open and frank discussion” on the status and future direction of Philippines-US engagement during a 75-minute courtesy call of the US defense secretary on the President, according to a Palace statement.
“They agreed that the alliance can be further strengthened through enhanced communication and greater cooperation, particularly in the areas of pandemic response, combating transnational crimes, including the war on illegal drugs, maritime domain awareness, the rule of law, and trade and investments,” the statement said.
The President expressed his gratitude to the US government for its assistance in the country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX vaccine sharing program, where the US is the largest contributor.
The Philippines has so far received more than 3 million vaccine doses under World Health Organization-led facility.
Secretary Austin, for his part, expressed his great respect for the Filipino people, underscoring America’s intention of forging a strong relationship with the Philippines as an equal sovereign partner.
During the meeting, Austin relayed US President Joe Biden’s greetings to the Filipino leader, with the President also conveying his well wishes for his US counterpart.
The US defense chief’s official visit in Manila from July 29 to 30 coincides with the commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations of the US and the Philippines and the 70th Anniversary of the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty this year.
Aside from meeting the President, Austin is also scheduled to meet with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.
Austin’s meeting with the President is a first for a Cabinet member of the Biden administration.
Prior to visiting the Philippines, the US defense secretary made stops in Singapore and Vietnam in a tour aimed at bolstering ties with Southeast Asian nations. PND