United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been planning to visit the Philippines, Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez revealed Thursday.
Romualdez said Austin wants to meet his Filipino counterpart, Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., who was appointed earlier this month to head the Department of National Defense.
“Secretary Austin has been planning to come to the Philippines, if I’m correct it’s been over a month since I was informed in Washington thathe wanted to come to the Philippines, so we have a new Secretary of Defense, he’s looking forward to meeting him,” Romualdez said, in an interview with ANC.
“The main purpose is really to be able to again be able to interact with our defense establishments especially with our new Defense secretary,” the Filipino diplomat added.
Romualdez made the statement after it was disclosed that there has been a serious discussion between Manila and Washington on conducting joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea.
But Romualdez clarified that joint patrols are not confined with the United States, but they are also possible with other allies such as Japan and Australia.
“First and foremost, we have the VFA, we have the EDCA, we have the Mutual Defense Treaty so that’s only part of the many aspects of our defense relationship or defense alliance with the United States,” he stressed.
“Joint patrols does not really mean that it’s directed to any one country. It basically means that it is really for us to be able to, like the VFA, have an interoperability… that’s the operative word that I’d like to use… that we will always be able to be ready if in any event there is conflict…” he said.
The Filipino diplomat pointed out that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s main goal is to ensure peace and security in the resource-rich region.
“President Marcos’ main objective in the West Philippine Sea really is to find peace and security and also importantly, he wants to make sure that our fishermen will be able to continue to fish in those waters because they’ve been doing that for centuries,” he explained.
The President earlier said the Philippine government already used the mechanism that he had proposed in Beijing following recent reports that the Chinese coast guards drove away Filipino fishers in waters off Ayungin Shoal.