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Palace: Philippines still committed to peace despite increased US military presence

The Philippine government on Monday stressed that it remains committed to ensuring peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region despite its request for a stronger military cooperation with the United States.

“In connection to whatever disputes that we may have, our commitment remains firm that we will pursue every diplomatic channel, avenue and recourse that we have to be able to solve it peacefully,” said deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte at a press briefing.

The Philippines on Friday said it planned to hold more joint exercises and to let more US troops rotate through the country — an offer welcomed by the United States as it seeks to expand its military power in Asia.

The move, however, prompted China’s Global Times, which is known for its nationalistic stance, to come up with a blistering editorial urging Beijing to impose sanctions against the Philippines.
But the Chinese government instead called for greater efforts towards peace and stability in the region.     

Valte: Peace will not be compromised
    
Valte said the Philippines will not compromise the peace in the region even as the country forges bilateral relations with other countries. She reiterated that the dispute on the West Philippine Sea (also South China Sea) is a small facet of the good relationship between China and the Philippines.

“We are pursuing several other relationships with them, namely, ‘yung sa trade natin, ‘yung sa tourism natin, as we have seen from the reports after the President had come back from his [state] visit [last year],” she said.

The Philippine defense and military establishments, meanwhile, downplayed China’s possible concerns about the planned increase in the presence of US troops in the Philippines.

Training needed
 
At a press briefing Monday, Defense spokesman Peter Paul Galvez reiterated that the plan to increase the number American forces in the country is merely for the conduct of training exercises with their Filipino counterparts.
 
“The increased US presence is really for the exercises,” he said, adding that Filipino troops need training as the military is buying more military equipment and hardware as part of its capability upgrade program.
 
“We have to train how to use these things properly also. There are new concepts of operations. There are some techniques that we don’t know yet,” said Galvez.
 
Galvez said the long delayed modernization program of the military aims to address internal security threats, including terrorism and poaching into the Philippine territory.

Aside from China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia have rival claims to parts of the West Philippine Sea. Last year, the Philippines and Vietnam complained on increasingly aggressive acts by China in the disputed area.

Defense chief off to Italy

In a related development, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin flew to Italy over the weekend to sign the implementing agreement on defense cooperation and to shop for military defense articles that may be acquired under the military’s modernization program.
 
Galvez said the 12-man party of Gazmin left Manila last Saturday and arrived in Italy on Sunday. The delegation met with the Philippine ambassador immediately after.
 
Galvez said the primary objective of the party is to sign the Implementing Arrangement of the defense cooperation forged with Italy in 2004. It was not immediately clear when would Gazmin sign the IA with his counterpart.
 
“The arrangement will help expedite the procurement from the Italian defense industry suppliers with the out of our counterparts at the Italian Ministry of Defense,” said Gazmin in a statement released Monday.
 
"Our primary goal is to explore all avenues for us to really address the needs of our Defense establishment, in line with our established systems and procedures…We constantly seek ways for the improvement of our capability to address the threats we face, including disasters and other non-conventional threats to national security,” he added.
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Amita O. Legaspi and AFP/KBK, 
GMA News
January 30, 2012 5:44pm
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