MANILA, Sept 3 (Mabuhay) — Department of National Defense (DND) Officer in Charge, Undersecretary Jose C. Faustino Jr., and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reaffirmed the robust defense relations between the two countries during their first phone conversation on Thursday.

“The call marked the first bilateral engagement between the two defense officials since Senior Undersecretary Faustino’s appointment as officer in charge of the DND on June 30, 2022,” DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said in a statement Friday.

Both officials reaffirmed their commitment to the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

Faustino emphasized that the MDT is the basis of the Philippines-US alliance and joint defense capability programs, while Austin reiterated that the US commitment to the alliance “remains ironclad,” Andolong said.

The two officials also discussed updates on security assistance cooperation and exchanged views on recent security developments in the region.

“Undersecretary Faustino mentioned that the Philippines has called for the exercise of restraint and expressed hope that matters would be resolved through diplomatic means. He shared that the DND will tirelessly implement its mandate of protecting the country’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, and sovereign rights,” Andolong said.

Meanwhile, Austin expressed appreciation for Faustino’s support in advancing the bilateral defense cooperation between the Philippines and the US, particularly in spearheading the return of regular military exercises and laying the groundwork for responsive maritime security cooperation between the Philippines and the US.

Both sides also noted the importance of deepening cooperation under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

“Both officials expressed hope to continue discussions in person in the future. The meeting ended with the two officials reaffirming the valued friendship, partnership, and alliance between the Philippines and the US,” Andolong said.

On Wednesday, Faustino also met with US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay L. Carlson at the DND main building in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

“Both sides exchanged views on regional security developments and discussed recent high-level visits of US senior officials in the Philippines, updates on security assistance cooperation, forthcoming bilateral defense activities, and cooperation on communications and information sharing,” Andolong said.

The two sides cited the importance of maintaining regional stability and freedom of navigation and highlighted the longstanding partnership between the two countries based on common values.

“Ambassador Carlson mentioned that the Philippines-US MDT is an important and well-rounded document that provides for both countries’ collective security. She welcomed the department’s views on how the US Embassy and the US government can further empower the partnership. Undersecretary Faustino reaffirmed that the department continues to stand by the Philippines-US MDT, which has been the basis of the alliance and continuing joint defense capability programs, and noted that this remains to be the sole defense treaty of the Philippines with another country,” he added.

Both sides also explored the possibility of working with other partner countries in addressing common challenges.

“Ambassador Carlson emphasized that broadening cooperation with like-minded countries does not dilute the Philippines-US bilateral defense partnership, and bolsters the efforts of both countries,” Andolong said.

He added that the Philippine side provided updates on the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program, and recommended exploring potential cooperative activities with the US on research and development to support the Self-Reliant Defense Posture program of the DND.

The two officials also discussed the next steps for information sharing.

“The meeting ended with the two officials reaffirming the friendship, partnership, and alliance between the Philippines and the US,” Andolong said. (MNS)