Wednesday, February 22, 2012

DFA says frequency of Phl, US joint exercises will be constitutional

MANILA, Philippines - Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Monday that the discussions between the Philippines and the United States on increasing the frequency of joint military exercises and enhancing treaty alliance will be in accordance with the Constitution and Philippine law.

Del Rosario said Manila and Washington agreed that enhancing treaty alliance between the two countries should go beyond providing military articles to the Philippines.

The Secretary met on Feb. 10 with US Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro.

Shapiro visited the country to consult with senior civilian and military officials on further enhancing defense and security cooperation for the mutual benefit of the US and the Philippines.

“What we discussed was how to enhance the treaty alliance between our two countries and so I feel that it should go beyond providing military articles to us. And actually we are going to have a planning session with the Department of National Defense (DND) so that we can see what else we can do to enhance this partnership, and of coursewhatever we do will be in accordance with the Constitution and not violative of Philippine law,” del Rosario told The STAR in a chance interview at the reception for the assumption of office of Chinese Ambassador Ma Kequing.

“We spoke of many areas of cooperation. We spoke of increasing the frequency of the joint exercises so that we can have a higher rotational presence, which of course would be consistent in terms of our establishing our minimum defense credibility posture. We are talking of many things but as I said, we will talk more,” he added.

The Philippines is exploring other means of military assistance and cooperation from the US.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said any actions will be consistent with treaty obligations and in accordance with Philippine laws and the Constitution.

Among the options under consideration are operating US Navy ships from the Philippines, deploying troops on a rotational basis and staging more frequent joint exercises.

Although discussions are in the early stages, officials from both governments are favorably inclined toward a deal.

No US presence expansion in Asia Pacific

But China is opposed to plans to expand US military presence in Asia Pacific, saying all countries, especially the major players, should work together for peace and stability in the region.

Ambassador Ma Keqing said on Monday that Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping was clear in saying during his recent visit to the United States that the region is broad and large enough to have space for China and US.

“That is to say that we can cooperate in this region. That means we are not in a Cold War and we should give up the mentality,” Ma said on the sidelines of the reception for her assumption of office.

Prior to his visit to the US, Xi, China’s next likely leader, warned Washington against plans to boost its military strength in Asia.

“We expressed our wish that all countries in this region, especially major players, should work together toward a more peaceful region so that all countries can have economic and social development to the benefit of their own people,” Ma said. “That is the basic starting point that countries here, all they do is conducive to the peace and stability in the region so that is basic.”

During a visit to Manila last month, American lawmakers, led by Arizona Senator John McCain, underscored the need to strengthen the Philippine military and expand US military presence in the Asia Pacific and its waters for peace and stability in the region.

McCain said the attention of the world economy is shifting to Asia, with the Philippines as one of the major leaders in the region.

The lawmakers stressed US commitment to work cooperatively to build up the militaries of its allies in the Asia Pacific region and carry out joint exercises.

The senators also opposed exercise of disproportionate control by China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Shapiro said during his recent visit to Manila that a redeployment of US forces to the Philippines after the pull out of US troops and military facilities in Okinawa may be considered at the invitation of the Philippine government. 

Navy upgrading assets

Meanwhile, the Philippine Navy is acquiring five new multi-purpose helicopters this year in line with its ongoing capability upgrade and modernization programs.

Funds for the acquisition of the five new multi-purpose helicopters, whose deliveries are expected before the year ends, came from the Department of Energy (DOE) and the AFP Modernization program, Navy chief Vice Admiral Alexander Pama said.

Three of these naval helicopters will be purchased from the P1.35-billion allocation from the DOE, while the remaining two will be acquired under the military’s defense modernization program.

Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Omar Tonsay said that aside from the five brand-new helicopters, funds have been set aside for the recovery of three Bolkows (BO105) helicopters. Repairs of these three BO105s are expected to be completed as early as the 4th quarter of this year.

“With the three refurbished BO105 helicopters and five new helicopters, naval aviators will definitely be set to conquer the country’s maritime skies,” Lieutenant Junior Grade Yron Celison Sarile, a Naval Aviation student, said in an article in the latest issue of Navy Journal.

Aside from the scheduled deliveries of eight naval helicopters, the Navy is expected to receive this year another Hamilton Class vessel from the US.

A Hamilton Class vessel had been previously acquired from the US Coast Guard. Named BRP Gregorio del Pilar, the navy frigate is currently deployed to protect the country’s infrastructure projects in the West Philippine Sea, specifically the Malampaya Natural Gasproject off Palawan.
Jaime Laude
By Pia Lee-Brago 
The Philippine Star
February 22, 2012 12:00 AM

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