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US, Philippines defense chiefs vow to step up bilateral pacts

MANILA, Philippines — The defense chiefs of the Philippines and the United States have committed to “redouble efforts” to strengthen coordination and interoperability of the two nations’ armed forces as well as to modernize the Philippine military.

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. and US defense chief Lloyd J. Austin III made the commitment yesterday in a phone discussion on China’s growing aggressiveness in asserting its claims in the South China Sea.

The two discussed in particular an incident on Oct. 22 wherein a Chinese coast guard ship made a “an unlawful and dangerous maneuver,” hitting in the process a Filipino vessel carrying provisions for troops stationed on the grounded BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

The Chinese action “put the safety of Philippine vessels and crew at risk,” a joint statement from Teodoro and Austin read.

In their joint press statement, the two defense secretaries also declared that the mutual defense treaty between the US and the Philippines “extends to both countries’ public vessels, aircraft and armed forces – to include the Coast Guard – anywhere in the Pacific to include the South China Sea.”

The Department of National Defense said Austin also reaffirmed the  “ironclad” commitment of the US to support the Philippines and the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific region amid China’s aggressive acts.

“The secretaries commended recent bilateral military cooperation, including the bilateral sail last month off the coast of Palawan, and committed to increase the pace and scope of US-Philippines engagements,” the two officials said in their statement.

Austin and Teodoro are set to meet in person in Jakarta, Indonesia on Nov. 16 on the sidelines of the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus.

In an interview with CNN Philippines’ “The Source” later yesterday, Teodoro said he and Austin discussed recommendations for the conduct of resupply missions to Sierra Madre simultaneously with joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea with the US.

“If it is recommended to me, and there is good basis for it, I would be obliged to agree with our Armed Forces officials,” Teodoro said. “I mean they know better than me. I just give the