The Philippines will fight side-by-side with the US against “external aggression” if needed, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said today.

Joint military exercises with the US “should further enhance our security relations and, whenever necessary, demonstrate our unequivocal resolve to support each other against the threats of external aggression and the enemies of freedom and liberty,” Gazmin said in a statement.

“Accomplishments” in the exercises include “combined planning,” “combat readiness,” and “interoperability,” Gazmin said.

Undersecretary for Defense Affairs Honorio Azcueta read the statement at the closing ceremony for the annual military exercises, called Balikatan.

This year’s trainings came amid a standoff between Philippine and Chinese ships at Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal) in the South China Sea.

The exercises saw 4,500 US troops and more than 2,000 Filipino soldiers conduct a boat raid and an oil and gas platform defense training, as well as disaster response drills and “civil-military operations.”

Gazmin, along with ranking defense and military officials, flew to the US today, ahead of a meeting with US officials.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario will join Gazmin in talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on April 30.

The Philippine officials are expected to discuss “regional issues,” including the standoff in Panatag, and the Armed Forces’ modernization with their US counterparts. (John Roson)

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