By Lance Arevada

PHOTO: Sen. Bong Go

The Philippines and the United States have committed to further strengthen their alliance through boosting its cooperation in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and other areas of mutual interest after President Rodrigo Duterte met with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday.

In a press statement, Malacañang said Duterte and Austin in a courtesy call had an “open and frank discussion” on the current relationship and future course between the two countries that lasted for 75 minutes.

“They agreed that the alliance can be further strengthened through enhanced communication and greater cooperation, particularly in the areas of pandemic response, combating transnational crimes, including the war on illegal drugs, maritime domain awareness, the rule of law, and trade and investments,” the Palace said.

The President has also thanked the United States for its assistance on the country’s pandemic response after receiving more than three million vaccine doses from the COVAX Facility, in which the US is the largest contributor.

On the other hand, the Pentagon chief has sought a stronger relationship with the Philippines, describing the country as an “equal sovereign partner.” 

The meeting was the first courtesy call received by Duterte from a Cabinet member of US President Joe Biden’s administration with the country being the final leg of Austin’s trip in Southeast Asia.

The visit also coincides with the 75th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations of the US and the Philippines and the 70th Anniversary of the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty.