Thursday, January 19, 2012

Philippines, US to boost military ties

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines and the United States have agreed to strengthen military cooperation following the visit in Manila of four American senators on Tuesday.

President Aquino met with Senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Sheldon Whitehouse and Kelly Ayotte at MalacaƱang on Tuesday.

McCain, Lieberman and Ayotte are all members of the US Senate armed services committee.

“The senators said that they are increasing their presence in the Asia-Pacific region. As you know, they already have established bases in Australia and Singapore. There will be increased military exercises in Asia-Pacific region and that would also include the Philippines,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a press briefing yesterday, quoting Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin who was with the President in the meeting with the US senators.

Lacierda clarified, however, that the US was not establishing any bases in the Philippines even as military exercises between the two allies would continue.

He said the Philippines also asked for a second Hamilton-class cutter, a request that the US senators vowed to support. The first Hamilton-class cutter arrived in the Philippines last August. It is now commissioned by the Philippine Navy to protect the country’s waters.

During their meeting, the President briefed the visiting US senators on the ongoing impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, Lacierda said.

“Senator John McCain lauded the President for his high approval ratings and Senator Lieberman told the President he was impressed with the way the President handles efforts on good governance,” he added.

Lacierda said the Philippines welcomed the wider military cooperation between the two countries, and the Philippines is ready to engage itself in more military exercises with the US.

“We profit from the experiences of joint military exercises. It enhances our experience, it improves our capabilities. We learn from the Americans,” he said.

Some of the Filipino officials who attended the meeting included Gazmin, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

Department of National Defense (DND) Undersecretary for Finance, Munitions, Installations and Materiel Fernando Manalo, Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Installations and Logistics Patrick Velez and Assistant Secretary for Strategic Assessment Raymund Quilop were also present.

Lacierda added the President thanked the senators for the SAVE Act that would help the country’s textile industry.
DND lauds US presence
The DND said it believes that the intention of the US is to “achieve peace and stability” and to “promote greater cooperation” among militaries in the region.

DND spokesman Peter Galvez believes the shoring up of US security presence in the region would not cause further tensions with China, which has criticized the policy.

McCain said China should not be permitted to exercise “disproportionate control” over the West Philippine Sea.

“If there is indeed a withdrawal of the US then I believe that that would mean a lessening of stability in the region,” McCain said.

China is one of the claimants of the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea, which is also being claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

“It’s a welcome initiative to stabilize. As to whether this would cause tension, I don’t think so,” Galvez said. “Their (US) increased presence would also help us out in terms of maritime security.”

He said the meeting lasted for about 40 minutes and tackled the Philippine military’s modernization efforts and the Spratlys issue.

“We welcome their (US) strategic guidance on their continued presence and interest here in the country and the region. We also welcome their support on the West Philippine Issue. They said they are also for a rules-based multilateral approach,” he said.

Galvez said the US lawmakers had also expressed support for efforts to promote cooperation among the armed forces in the region.

He said Gazmin had also urged the US lawmakers to support the Philippine military’s modernization program.

“The secretary asked for assistance regarding military hardware, especially cutters,” he said without elaborating.

Last year, the Philippines acquired a warship from the US Coast Guard to beef up its territorial defense capabilities.

The vessel, which has been renamed BRP Gregorio del Pilar, was acquired under the US Foreign Military Sales program. The government spent P450 million for the vessel’s transfer costs.

The US has vowed to provide the Philippines another warship.
– Alexis Romero
By Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) Updated January 19, 2012 12:00 AM

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