By Priam Nepomuceno

US Department of Defense (DOD) Secretary Lloyd Austin III (left) and Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. (right). (File photo)

MANILA – The Philippines and the United States reaffirmed their commitment to a free and open region grounded in transparency, rule of law, respect for sovereignty, and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. and US Department of Defense (DOD) Secretary Lloyd Austin III made this remark in a phone conference on Wednesday where they also discussed China’s latest aggressive actions against Philippine ships performing their mandate in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

“Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Philippine Secretary of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro Jr. spoke by phone today. The Secretaries discussed coercive and unlawful actions by the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea over the weekend,” the US DOD said in a press statement.

These illegal actions by Beijing include the the unprovoked use of acoustic devices, water cannons, and reckless maneuvers at Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc) and Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin Shoal) which caused a collision and damage to Filipino vessels operating in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Austin also affirmed Washington DC’s support for Manila in defending its sovereign rights in accordance with international law.

The US defense chief also said the United States’ commitment to the Philippines remains ironclad.

Austin also reiterated that the Mutual Defense Treaty extends to both countries’ armed forces, public vessels, and aircraft — including those of their respective Coast Guards — anywhere in the Pacific, to include the South China Sea.

He also commended the professionalism of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the face of unlawful behavior.

“The Secretaries highlighted the Philippines’ recent bilateral maritime activities in the South China Sea with the United States and Australia. They agreed to bolster bilateral and multilateral coordination with other like minded partners to enhance interoperability and accelerate the modernization of the AFP,” the statement added.

It also said Austin condoled with the families of the victims of the Dec. 3 bombing at the Mindanao State University campus in Marawi City and with those affected by the Dec. 2 earthquake that struck parts of Mindanao. (PNA)