MANILA - The Philippines and the United States have pledged to deepen long-standing relations as both countries explored a potential bilateral free trade agreement and vowed to continue close defense ties.
During the annual Bilateral Strategic Dialogue held in Washington from Nov. 30 to Dec. 1, senior Philippine and US officials also reaffirmed their commitment to improve collaboration on maritime security, counter-terrorism, the elimination of human trafficking, and upholding the rule of law, among others.
In the face of an escalating threat from North Korea, both nations vowed to work together to end the "unlawful ballistic missile and nuclear programs" of the totalitarian state, the two sides said in a joint statement released early Saturday.
The US delegation also lauded the Philippines for defeating Islamic State-linked terrorists that laid siege on Marawi City and promised to support its rehabilitation. The five-month conflict that erupted in May had left much of the city in ruins.
In the dialogue, senior officials also expressed their intent to strengthen regional cooperation under the strategic partnership between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the US, and through the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
During the 2-day talks, the two nations worked across a wide range of issues to expand joint partnership on defense and security; economics, development, and prosperity; regional and global diplomatic engagement; and rule of law and enforcement.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy Enrique Manalo and Defense Undersecretary Ricardo David co-led the Philippine delegation, which offered to host next year's dialogue in Manila.
The talks happened just weeks after US President Donald Trump's first official visit to the Philippines, where he met with President Rodrigo Duterte and took part in the ASEAN Summit.
In meeting Duterte, Trump said the Philippines and the US have "a great relationship." Duterte has many times blasted American criticism of his drug war but has toned down his rhetoric, even praising the US for supporting government's offensives against terrorists in Marawi City.