Saturday, February 11, 2012

Shapiro: US gov’t keeps military assistance levels to RP

United States foreign military assistance (FMF) to the Philippines will stay at the same levels, despite budget constraints, even as the two countries look for “cost-effective” ways to beef up defense capabilities in maritime security, a US state official said on Friday.

Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew J. Shapiro, in a roundtable discussion with reporters in Manila, said that the US government will be enhancing its military assistance to the Philippines, and particularly, “emphasize the use of FMF for maritime security.”
“We continue to provide foreign military financing... it’s a challenging budget environment in Washington, however the Philippines is a priority,” Mr. Shapiro told reporters on Friday, after his meeting with defense officials, and prior to meeting with his counterparts at the foreign ministry.
“We are looking to transition our support from internal security to maritime security and our FMF agreements and support will reflect that shift,” underscored Mr. Shapiro.
Ongoing discussions between the two governments, to culminate in a state meeting in Washington, have revolved around aligning the US agenda to increase its military presence in the Asia-Pacific, with the Philippine agenda to improve its capabilities to defend territorial sovereignty, particularly in light of repeated incursions from China.
He could not give a “ballpark figure” for the amount of financing allotted to the Philippines, explaining that the numbers are still being worked out in Congress, but indicated that the trend has been roughly $30 million for several years already.
“We will see how the fiscal year 2012 budget shapes up but again we’re looking through all possible assistance for the Philippines,” stated Mr. Shapiro.
“Going forward, we intend to continue these discussions... We’ll also be looking at further ways to help the Philippines with their maritime security needs,” added Mr. Shapiro.
Thus far, the US has successfully turned over the first of three Hamilton class cutters for the Philippine Coast Guard -- previously announced by the Aquino administration -- with the second vessel just recently approved by the US Congress, said Mr. Shapiro.
“We would like to work with the Philippines on the most cost-effective platforms that will serve their defense needs... the ongoing dialogue is designed to identify what would be the best way to meet those needs...,” said Mr. Shapiro, without further elaboration.
The two vessels are merely the first of possible transfers, said Mr. Shapiro, as they expect “further opportunities down the road for future excess defense articles. He admitted, however, that such equipment will depend on what the US defense department can spare at this point in time.
“Excess defense articles are excess, and as our services are able to spare certain equipment -- that will determine what will be able to be turned over as excess defense articles,” said Mr. Shapiro.
The desired F-16 aircraft that President Benigno S.C. Aquino III said he would be bringing up with US President Barack Obama when he visited sometime in May or June, has yet to be discussed, said Mr. Shapiro.
However, he made a point of noting that his bureau is also involved in licensing commercial sales, and that he in fact will be attending the Singapore air show, which will be “an opportunity” to meet with US companies “to discuss the best way we can support US companies that are seeking to make sales in the region.”
Providing linkages between “partners” and the US firms will be a benefit to both, he said.
“We greatly value our military assistance to the Philippines -- we think that it helps deepen the partnership,” Mr. Shapiro said.
“There is no discussion of renegotiating the bilateral treaty, and other agreements as the discussions unfold whether new agreements are necessary or changes to existing agreements, we’ll see, but right now we have not entered into discussions as to changing any agreements,” said Mr. Shapiro.
He underscored that the US will not be establishing bases in the Philippines, whereas the rotational troops -- including the special forces in the south -- will be limited to joint military training and disaster response and humanitarian assistance, rather than active combat duty.
Mr. Shapiro, who will be traveling to Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as Singapore, later this month, also underscored that while the US will stand by its obligations to the Philippines under the MDT, the defense dialogue on maritime cooperation is not designed as a specific deterrent for China.
“Our discussions are designed not targeted to any one country; they are designed to meet legitimate security requirements of the Philippines,” said Mr. Shapiro. 
Johanna Paola D.Poblete
 February 10, 2012 07:56:47 PM
Business World Online

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