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US, PH vow to speed up EDCA implementation

(UPDATE) US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Defense Secretary Gilberto «Gibo» Teodoro Jr. pledged to further speed up the implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

In a joint statement released after their meeting on the sidelines of the Asean Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus in Jakarta, Indonesia, the two defense chiefs highlighted the recent progress the two countries have made to modernize their alliance, enhance interoperability and address new and emerging challenges.

They also welcomed the recent completion of the $24-million runway upgrade at Basa Airbase in Floridablanca, Pampanga, one of the EDCA sites.

Austin and Teodoro highlighted the importance of preserving the rights of all nations to fly, sail, and operate safely and responsibly wherever international law allows.

They denounced the Chinese coast guard's recent harassment of Philippine Coast Guard vessels during a resupply mission to the Ayungin Shoal and China's dangerous maneuvers against US aircraft and ships «lawfully operating in the South China Sea.»

Taking note of the concerns of a growing number of foreign governments about the Chinese harassment, the two defense chiefs emphasized that the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal Ruling is final and binding, and called on China to abide by its obligations under international law.

They also reaffirmed that the Mutual Defense Treaty covers both countries' armed forces, public vessels, and aircraft —including those of its Coast Guard — anywhere in the Pacific, to include the South China Sea.

They vowed to explore further opportunities to strengthen bilateral operations and planning, including through the Balikatan 2024 exercise and reaffirmed their commitment to the speedy conclusion of a General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), as well as the bilateral Philippines Security Sector Assistance Roadmap.

Austin welcomed the updates shared by Teodoro on the Philippines' Horizon 3 modernization plan.

He also reiterated President Joe Biden's message that the US defense commitment to the Philippines is ironclad and said the US stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Philippines in defending its sovereign rights and