MANILA, Philippines – US Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus met with top defense and military officials at Camp Aguinaldo Tuesday as part of his three-day official visit to the Philippines.
Mabus will discuss bilateral and multilateral security issues and efforts, maritime security, counter-terrorism efforts, and regional humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts with Filipino officials.
Mabus, who arrived Monday, met with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista, Philippine Navy’s Flag Officer in Command Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano, and other senior US and Philippine government and military officials.
The meeting lasted no more than an hour, a staff from the Department of National Defense said.
“Mabus’ visit reflects the importance that the United States holds for the strong and enduring relationship with the Philippines,” the US Embassy in Manila said in its advisory.
His visit came amid mounting tensions in the West Philippine Sea between China and Southeast Asian countries including the Philippines, with China’s intrusion in Ayungin Shoal located within the Philippine territory as the latest reported incident.
“As we rebalance to the Pacific, our alliance with the Philippines has never been more important than it is today,” said Mabus. “I look forward to exploring opportunities to work with the Philippine armed forces to build greater maritime capacity and increase security and stability in the region,” he added.
When asked if the West Philippine Sea was tackled, US Ambassador Harry Thomas only reiterated Secretary of State John Kerry’s emphasis that they “want to ensure freedom of navigation and no economic coercion.”
“These sea lanes are open for all of us. That is what they talked about, and that we need to adhere to the code of conduct,” he told reporters in an ambush interview.
It is the Secretary of the Navy that leads the American Navy and Marine Corps, and is responsible for the Navy’s affairs including recruiting, organizing, equipping, training and mobilizing. Additionally, he oversees the construction and repair of naval ships, aircraft, and facilities, and formulates and implements policies and programs consistent with the national security policies established by the President Barack Obama and the Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Mabus is responsible for an annual budget in excess of $170 billion and leadership of almost 900,000 people.