Remarks With Secretary of Defense Ash Carter with Filipino Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario and Secretary of Defense Voltaire Gazmin

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Ben Franklin Room
Washington, DC
January 12, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good morning, everybody, and welcome to the State Department. I’m very, very pleased to be here with my colleague, Ash Carter, and my friends, Secretary Albert del Rosario and Secretary Gazmin. We’re here to reinforce and reaffirm the alliance between the United States and the Philippines, one of the strongest and longest, actually.

As you know, this room that we are in was named for Ben Franklin, and in fact, Ben Franklin had a couple of connections to the Philippines, and I’ll just mention them quickly. In 1756, Franklin was trying to disprove a theory that trade winds only arose in the afternoon – a little esoteric – but he pointed to the strong and steady winds that ships almost always found when they were traveling from America to the Philippines in order to disprove this theory. And then equally, perhaps more importantly, in 1944, the U.S. aircraft carrier Franklin played a very central role in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. And I can remember personally being on a ship coming from Pearl Harbor and going through Leyte and coming back up towards Subic Bay and recounting to everybody on the ship the history of the Battle of Leyte Gulf – at the captain’s orders, I might add. But as we all know, U.S. and Philippine forces fought together to liberate the Philippines from enemy occupation in that period of time.

So there’s a proud and long tradition, which was recognized more recently when our two presidents met in Manila in 2014, and President Aquino said very directly, “The United States is a key ally, a strategic partner, and a reliable friend of the Philippines.”

This has been the case, frankly, since our two nations established relations 70 years ago and signed a Mutual Defense Treaty five years after that. And it remains absolutely true today.

Our strategic relationship begins with a very firm pledge: that the United States has an ironclad commitment to the security of the Philippines.

To that end, we welcome the Philippine Supreme Court’s decision that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement is consistent with the Philippine constitution. It’s a very important decision. And we look forward to implementing this accord, which will increase the interoperability of our armed forces and contribute to modernization and improve our joint capacity to respond to humanitarian emergencies.

As Secretary Carter will make clear, our defense cooperation will always be a priority; but our bonds of friendship, it is fair to say, extend far beyond the priority of our defense cooperation. It includes trade and investment, people-to-people exchanges, a shared commitment to democracy, and support for health, education, and human rights.

And that is why we are expanding our work together on sustainable development through the Partnership for Growth.

And it’s why we’re pleased that the Philippines was selected for a second compact under the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and that will mean hundreds of millions more dollars invested to fund critical projects that will reduce poverty and promote economic growth.

It’s also why we are striving to grow our two-way trade, and it’s why the United States welcomes the Philippines’ interest in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

It’s also why we will continue to consult and cooperate on all issues affecting regional security – such as territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea – and why we are both strong supporters of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which recognizes the urgent need to reform energy policy on a global basis.

So on each of these issues and more, the United States and the Philippines have already achieved a great deal. And I look forward today to an exchange of ideas on how we will further develop and grow this important relationship.

As Benjamin Franklin reminded us a long time ago, he said, “Energy and persistence conquer all things.” And in that spirit, we gather here today to have an important discussion about our strategic and broader relationship.

It’s my pleasure now to yield the floor to my friend and my colleague, Secretary Carter.

SECRETARY CARTER: Thanks very much, Secretary Kerry, and thank you for hosting us here. And thanks to the entire delegation from the Philippines, but my very good friend Voltaire Gazmin, good to see you again. Secretary del Rosario, we too have met and worked together on many previous occasions. Ambassador Cuisia, thank you. Nice to see you also. And the entire team, thank you.

Secretary Kerry said it all. The Philippines is a critical ally of the United States as we continue and gather and strengthen our rebalance to the Asia Pacific region. In that connection, the Philippines plays a central part. And as Secretary Kerry said and as President Obama has said, our commitment is ironclad.

The rebalance, so-called, to the Asia Pacific is, as the Secretary of State has noted, not a purely military concept. It is an economic and political one as well. However, it has a very important security dimension, and that can be captured very succinctly by looking past over the many decades of peace and stability in the region and the role that the United States and Philippines have played together in keeping peace in the Asia Pacific region.

There are many aspects to that security cooperation and that joint umbrella, if you like. One of those is freedom of navigation and freedom of the commons. The United States has indicated our intention to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, whether it be the South China Sea or anywhere else around the world. And the Philippines – and the EDCA decision by the Supreme Court gives us new opportunities here – also is strengthening its role in maritime security, and in that connection we’re working and now have new opportunities to work with the Philippines. And therefore let me join Secretary Kerry in welcoming the decision of the court in the Philippines to recognize the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

For us, that means very soon – and we’re working on this right now – deciding together how we want to use that opportunity to strengthen our maritime security capabilities and our role in keeping a peaceful region, a region without divisions and without tensions, and a region where everyone has freedom to carry out their affairs, including commerce, in their own way.

I look forward to the discussions, very practical ones over the next couple of hours. As once again, Secretary Kerry, thank you for hosting us. And my friends, good to see you again as always.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Ash, thank you. Thanks for those comments, and obviously, thank you for your partnership in this initiative and others.

My pleasure now to recognize the Foreign Secretary of the Philippines Albert del Rosario.

FOREIGN SECRETARY DEL ROSARIO: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. A very good morning to all of you. I’m most honored to be here for the second Philippine-U.S. 2+2 ministerial consultations. We have made tremendous progress in revitalizing the alliance since our first meeting in 2012, and I believe that our relations are truly at its best at this point. One factor behind this is the conscious effort of our leaders to invest in our enduring engagement, and another factor is the emergence of regional challenges that have underscored the need for concerted effort to protect our common values.

Following our first meeting, we have since concluded a range of agreements on economic and development cooperation, defense, maritime security, science and technology, and other areas. We have also exchanged visits at the highest levels wherein our leaders have recommitted our countries to our mutual defense. Our defense and security engagement has never been stronger nor more focused. Our cooperation in the area of maritime security and maritime domain awareness benefits not just our mutual defense but also actively contributes to maintaining regional stability. We appreciate the increase in foreign military financing and other forms of security assistance in support of our defense modernization efforts. The recent approval of the EDCA opens up new opportunities to further deepen this enduring alliance, and indeed, we look forward to continued effort in this regard.

In the field of development cooperation, the Millennium Challenge Corporation has just selected the Philippines for a second compact. The first compact, which we expect to complete in May of this year, has supported our national efforts on poverty reduction, inclusive growth, and elimination of corruption. And we are working together to develop a second set of programs that will leverage the gains from this first compact.

In terms of economic relations, we have also managed to resolve many of the issues that have tempered the growth of our trade relations, including the termination of the GSP labor review, the removal of the Philippines from the Special 301 watch list, and the reinstatement of the Philippines to FAA Category 1 status. Moving forward, we remain in close consultation with the U.S. on how the Philippines can accede to the Trans-Pacific Partnership at the soonest possible time.

Our meeting today kicks off the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations. This presents an occasion to look back at what we have done and assess the opportunities to deepen our collaboration. I look forward to our discussions this afternoon on the full range of issues and opportunities that invigorate our relations. Secretary Kerry, Secretary Carter, our cooperation over the past 70 years has served to underscore how our alliance anchored on shared values has contributed to the stability and economic prosperity our region now enjoys. I’m most honored by the privilege of creating new milestones in our enduring alliance. I thank you all very much, and I am now at this point delighted to turn the floor over to my colleague, the Secretary of Defense Voltaire Gazmin.

DEFENSE SECRETARY GAZMIN: Secretary John Kerry, Secretary Albert del Rosario, Secretary Ashton Carter, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Being able to convene ministerial consultations among us is a manifestation of the strong state of our alliance. More than three years ago, the inaugural Philippines-U.S. 2+2 ministerial consultations marked a significant milestone for Philippines-U.S. relations. Since then, we have continued to work with the U.S. to deepen our alliance based on common interests and shared values between our two countries.

We have come a long way since we signed the Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951, and our frameworks of cooperation continue to evolve, from the Visiting Forces Agreement to Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement in 2014. Our mechanisms likewise continue to develop, from the Mutual Defense Board launch in 1958 to Security Engagement Board of 2006 and to the Bilateral Strategic Dialogue of 2011. Our bilateral exercises, such as Balikatan, remain useful. Indeed, our security partnership continues to be strong.

Along with the development of the alliance, the regional security environment has also evolved. Our security interests are becoming increasingly intertwined. While we grapple with nontraditional security concerns and natural manmade disasters, traditional security challenges, to include territorial and maritime disputes, remain to be fundamental concerns. Given this strategic context, we should be in a position to address such common concerns, as well as contribute to regional peace and stability. It is worth it to note that in the – in pursuit of the objective of enabling the armed forces of the Philippines not only to perform our mandate to protect the state, but also to fulfill our obligation as an ally and an active contributor to regional peace and stability.

President Benigno Aquino’s administration provided unprecedented levels of funds to support the AFP’s modernization with a sufficient defense budget made available through good governance policies.

It is timely for the Philippines and the U.S. to focus on building a credible defense posture and enhancing interoperability for territorial defense, maritime security and maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response. We look forward to further deepening our strategic partnership and ensure that we maintain an effective alliance that is responsive to the challenges of the 21st century. Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. I would now ask the members of the press, the media if you would disengage and let us continue our private conversations. We would appreciate that very much. Thank you.