Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper discuss diplomatic ties and mutual defense treaty at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City Tuesday. The STAR/Felicer Santos

MANILA, Philippines — The South China Sea dispute and counter-terror efforts were among the topics discussed during Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s meeting with his US counterpart Tuesday.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper is in Manila for talks with Philippine defense officials on ways to advance security cooperation between the two countries.

Following their meeting, Lorenzana and Esper reiterated Manila and Washington’s commitment to uphold freedom of navigation, overflight and other lawful uses of the sea in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.

The Defense chiefs also stressed the importance of peacefully resolving disputes in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“The Philippines noted that, as an ASEAN member, it has a crucial role to play in ensuring that these principles are enshrined in an eventual Code of Conduct for South China Sea claimant states,” the joint statement read.

The ASEAN member states and China are currently negotiating a legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

For its part, the US recognized ASEAN centrality as integral to its so-called Indo-Pacific strategy.





Mutual Defense Treaty

Esper also reaffirmed the previous commitment of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the US will invoke the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty in case of any armed attack to Filipino troops in the West Philippine Sea.

Through the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty Board-Security Engagement Board, the two countries maintained commitment on developing capabilities and enhancing cooperation to address security challenges.

Lorenzana and Esper agreed to explore ways to improve defense cooperation such as improving defense infrastructure, updating personnel and logistics procedures, adapting counterterrorism cooperation and increasing operational communication and coordination.

Aside from the maritime dispute, Lorenzana and Esper also discussed the two countries’ commitment to counter terrorism and violent extremism.

“The United States and the Philippines will build upon the existing foundation by continuing to improve information sharing and enhancing cooperation to prevent terrorist attacks and the transit of foreign terrorist fighters in and through the Philippines,” the statement read.

The two officials also talked about the commitment of the US to assist the country in the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“They confirmed their shared commitment to further deepen and expand defense cooperation by reinforcing respective national defense capabilities and interoperability, enhancing joint military exercises, disaster response initiatives, and cybersecurity awareness, and improving defense infrastructure through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement,” the statement said.