MANILA - The chiefs of the Philippine armed forces and the United States Pacific Command said Tuesday the two countries' military ties remain robust, with both sides committed to their alliance and cooperation on maritime security, counterterrorism and humanitarian aid.
The upbeat statement issued at the end of a Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board meeting came after threats by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to reduce military cooperation with Washington and expand security ties with China and Russia.
Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., head of the U.S. Pacific Command, co-chaired the meeting with Gen. Ricardo R. Visaya, the Philippine armed forces chief.
Harris said last week in Washington that there's been no change so far in U.S.-Philippine military cooperation but that there could be a “re-scoping” of some big joint exercises in 2017.
The Philippines and the U.S. are longstanding allies who signed a mutual defense treaty in 1951.
“The successful completion of the MDB-SEB ensures continued, robust relations between the U.S. and Philippine militaries,” the statement said. “This highlights the enduring commitment of both countries to the U.S.-Philippine alliance.”
It said they look forward to continued cooperation in areas central to both countries' national and security interests, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, counterterrorism, cybersecurity and maritime security.
The Philippine defense department earlier said it wants the number of drills reduced from the current 13 to about six or seven and for training to be re-focused on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and counterterrorism. The department also wants to scrap two naval exercises that include territorial defense training.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana presented the proposal to Duterte earlier this month. Officials said the proposal was to be presented to the Americans during Tuesday's board meeting for concurrence.
Padilla said the two sides discussed the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which seeks to establish U.S. military facilities inside Philippine military camps for prepositioning of troops and assets.
But he did not elaborate on that or the reduction in exercises, saying more details may be available when the minutes of the meeting are released.
Duterte earlier said he wants a review of the 2014 agreement, but Lorenzana later said the Duterte administration would implement previous agreements with the Americans, including that pact.