Secretary of Defense
Remarks at Balikatan Closing Ceremony
Camp Aguinaldo, The Philippines
Thank you, General, for that warm introduction and also, I should say, your leadership. And good morning, everyone.
Today, at an exercise named Balikatan, or “shoulder-to-shoulder,” I am so honored to stand before you, row after row of Americans and Filipinos, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, at the close of the 32nd iteration of this important bilateral exercise. Congratulations to you, and your leadership General Toolan, Admiral Lopez, on everything you’ve accomplished over the last two weeks.
To our Filipino allies, thank you for your partnership. Secretary Gazmin, Secretary Almendras, leaders and representatives of the Philippine Armed Forces and government, we appreciate your dedication to this exercise and to our alliance. For 65 years, our two nations have been standing together, and America’s commitment to the Philippines remains ironclad.
Balikatan is another demonstration of the long-standing and now rapidly growing network of security in the Asia-Pacific. I would like to thank our Australian allies for their participation for a third year. And observer nation officials here today, including those from Japan and elsewhere, and others who attended over the course of the exercise, I am pleased to see so many nations interested in working together to promote stability and security in the Asia-Pacific.
And to our American service members, thank you for your participation in this important exercise. Thank you for your hard work in this consequential region and alongside our allies, like the Philippines. And thank you for your dedication to the defense of our nation and the values that we, and many other nations around the region, hold dear.
Although we are marking the successful conclusion of this multifaceted exercise, tragedy struck in the early days of Balikatan 2016 with the death of Philippine Airman 2nd Class Jover Dumansi. And I want to express my condolences, on behalf of the men and women of the Department of Defense, and all Americans, to Airman Dumansi’s family and friends, as well as to the Philippine Armed Forces, government, and people. His loss is a reminder of the risks that each of you – and your families – accepts each day, just as the successful continuation of this exercise, in the face of such a tragedy, is a reminder of our shared commitment to always seeing the mission through.
All of you, and the more than 7,000 personnel who joined you, have done just that here at Balikatan, and you’ve done so in exemplary fashion. Together, you’ve provided medical care to local communities. Together, you’ve improved our combined command and control. Together, you’ve rehearsed maritime interdiction operations so we can respond more quickly to threats on the sea. And, together, you’ve simulated the recovery of an oil and gas platform from hostile forces in the South China Sea.
Through it all, you’ve made our strong alliance even stronger. You’ve helped prepare our nations and this important alliance to confront the very real challenges we face. And you have demonstrated to the region and the world that the United States and the Philippines are standing together to defend the rules and principles that that have benefited so many in the region: rules and principles like the peaceful resolution of disputes, countries being able to make their own security and economic choices free from coercion and intimidation, and freedom of navigation and overflight.
You’ve also set the stage for a new level of cooperation between the Philippines and the United States.
With the success of Balikatan 2016 – and two major recent policy steps forward, the U.S.-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and the new U.S. Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative – we are going to be doing more together. And, as I announced yesterday, some Americans here for this exercise will be staying behind on a rotational basis to continue joint training and working with our Philippine allies to contribute to regional security and stability. I thank these servicemembers for taking on these important assignments.
You’ve also contributed to the Asia-Pacific’s ongoing stability and security.
It is said of this region, that security is like oxygen. When you have enough of it, you pay no attention to it. But when you don’t have enough, you can think of nothing else. Here in the Asia-Pacific, through exercises like Balikatan and real world operations, all of you, Americans and Filipinos, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, provide that oxygen – the security that enables millions upon millions of people all around the Asia-Pacific to be safe, to raise their children, to dream their dreams, to live lives that are full.
Later today, I will visit the aircraft carrier U.S.S. John C. Stennis, sailing in the South China Sea after – after, that is – after some of its sailors and Marines participated with you in Balikatan. Just as this year’s 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 on this deployment, it has operated near the Republic of Korea, through the Sea of Japan, in Guam, and now in the South China Sea. With each Balikatan and each cruise by the Stennis, with each new multilateral exercise and each new defense agreement, we add a stitch to the fabric of the region’s, region’s security network. This is the network – peaceful, principled, and inclusive – America continues to stand for, and to stand with.
At a time of change in this dynamic region, and democratic transitions in the Philippines and the United States, we will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder. And we will continue to stand up for our safety and freedoms, for those of our friends and allies, and for the values, principles, and rule-based order that has benefited so many for so long. As long as we remain steadfast in that commitment, as we have for decades, 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.