“WE will continue to ensure the Philippines remains secure and the Asia Pacific remains a region where everyone can rise and prosper for generations to come.”
Shortly after making this assurance, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, together with top Philippine military and defense officials, flew to the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) to visit a nuclear-powered supercarrier of the US Navy that is sailing the disputed waterway.
In his speech at the closing ceremony of Exercise Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) held at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City (Metro Manila), Carter mentioned his plan to visit the USS John C. Stennis later Friday afternoon, but did not say if he will be tagging along top officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Defense Department.
“Later today I will visit the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis sailing in the South China Sea and after so, sailors and marines, that is after some of its sailors and Marines participated with you in Balikatan, just as this year is the 32nd Balikatan extending back to the early 1980s. The Stennis has sailed in these waters many times before, and sailed not just here in the South China Sea but all around the vast Asia Pacific, six times in the last several years, so far of this deployment it has operated near the republic of Korea, through the Sea of Japan, in Guam and now the South China Sea,” said Carter.
But sources said Carter was joined by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Gen. Hernando
Iriberri and AFP Chief of Staff left Palawan at about 1 p.m. aboard a V-22 Osprey.
The visit came amid increasing concern over China’s saber-rattling in the region.
During the closing ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo, Carter said Balikatan is another demonstration of the long-standing and now rapidly growing network of security in the Asia Pacific.
For the nth time, Carter echoed US President Barack Obama’s pronouncement that the US’ commitment to the Philippines “remains ironclad.”
“For 65 years our two nations have been standing together and America’s commitment to the Philippines remains ironclad,” said Carter in his speech at the ceremony held at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City (Metro Manila).
The US defense chief thanked all the US and Filipino soldiers who he said made the two countries’ alliance even stronger in the face of real challenges.
“Through it all you made our strong alliance even stronger, you helped prepare our nations of this important alliance to confront very real challenges to face, and you’ve demonstrated to the region and to the world that United States and the Philippines are standing together to defend the rules and principles that have benefited so many in the region,” he pointed out.
Meanwhile, Carter announced that some US servicemen who participated the war games will be staying in the country on a rotational basis to continue joint training and working with Filipino soldiers “to contribute to regional security and stability.”