The United States has agreed to expedite assistance aimed at beefing up the various capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

US Department of Defense (DOD) Secretary Lloyd Austin III made this pledge following a phone call with Department of National Defense Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr.

“They agreed to bolster bilateral and multilateral cooperation with like-minded partners in the South China Sea and committed to accelerate a number of bilateral initiatives to enhance information-sharing, interoperability, and capability enhancements for the AFP,” the DOD statement said.

Both defense chiefs also underscored their countries’ shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific grounded in transparency, the rule of law, respect for sovereignty, and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

During the call, Austin reiterated the US commitment to the Philippines following the March 23 incident where a Filipino resupply ship to Ayungin Shoal was harassed and damaged by a severe water cannon attack from China’s Coast Guard ships that also resulted in injuries among some of the crew.

“Secretary Austin reaffirmed the ironclad US commitment to the Philippines following the PRC (People’s Republic of China) Coast Guard and maritime militia’s dangerous obstruction of a lawful Philippine resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal on March 23. He emphasized U.S. support for the Philippines in defending its sovereign rights and jurisdiction and reiterated that the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty extends to both countries ‘armed forces, public vessels, and aircraft—including those of its Coast Guard—anywhere in the Pacific, to include the South China Sea,” the DOD statement added.

The two officials discussed the importance of preserving the rights of all nations to fly, sail, and operate safely and responsibly wherever international law allows.

They also stressed that the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal Ruling is final and binding on the Parties and called on China to abide by its obligations under international law.

“The officials discussed historic momentum in US-Philippine defense ties and reaffirmed their mutual commitment to strengthening the US-Philippine alliance, which has upheld peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region for over seventy years,” it added.PNA