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Aquino, Dempsey tackle Scarborough Shoal standoff

Philippine defense and civilian officials on Monday briefed General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, on China’s aggressive posture in the West Philippine Sea and reiterated to him the urgency of the Philippines’ need to have a credible defense in the disputed waters.

Dempsey also called on President Benigno Aquino in Malacañang, where he had “broad discussions” of the standoff between China and the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal and security in the West Philippine Sea with the President and other Philippine officials.

Dempsey arrived in Manila on Sunday after attending a security forum in Singapore where the United States announced details of its new military strategy involving a shift of most of its naval forces to the Asia-Pacific region by the end of the decade.

Malacañang did not tell the media about the meeting between Dempsey and the President, although presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said he had known about Dempsey’s visit since Friday.

No details

Dempsey arrived at 10 a.m., accompanied by US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. With the President were Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa.

Both Lacierda, who was also at the meeting, and Del Rosario had no details of the discussions to offer to reporters, as they were preoccupied with preparations for the President’s departure for London.

Del Rosario said the President and Dempsey talked mostly about defense and security cooperation between the Philippines and the United States.

The discussions also covered the standoff with China over Panatag Shoal—the Philippines’ name for Scarborough Shoal—and of the Philippines’ pursuit of a peaceful solution to the territorial dispute.

Del Rosario said the discussions included a “reiteration” of the Philippines’ need for “assistance and support” for its efforts to build a “minimum defense posture” in the West Philippine Sea (the Philippines’ name for South China Sea).

He said Dempsey broadly discussed US support for the Philippines’ search for a peaceful resolution of its dispute with China through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

No threat to China
CAMP VISITOR Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, is met at Camp Aguinaldo by Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Chief of Staff Gen. Jessie Dellosa. RODEL ROTONI

Lacierda said the meeting between Dempsey and President Aquino should not be a cause of concern for China.

“China should not be threatened,” Lacierda said. Dempsey’s visit, he said, was just a “call on a strategic partner.”

At the Department of National Defense, where Dempsey also came calling yesterday morning, Undersecretary Honorio Azcueta, who is in charge of defense affairs, said he had a brief discussion with the Joint Chiefs chair of the worsening standoff with China at Scarborough Shoal.

Azcueta said he told Dempsey that “China is really aggressive” in its posture at Scarborough Shoal, but that the Philippines was exercising “restraint” as it preferred a peaceful solution to the dispute.

He said Dempsey reiterated the US position that the Scarborough Shoal dispute was also a “concern” for the United States.

Azcueta said he also discussed with Dempsey “information sharing” in real time on the situation at Scarborough Shoal, where two Philippine civilian vessels have been facing off with nearly 100 Chinese vessels since the dispute erupted on April 8.

Freedom of navigation
The United States has not taken sides in the dispute, but has said it wants to ensure freedom of navigation in international seas.

Azcueta said Dempsey was aware of the list of military hardware the Philippines submitted in January under an excess defense articles program, but did not make any commitment.

Azcueta said Army chief Lieutenant General Emmanuel Bautista, Navy Flag Officer in Command Vice Admiral Alexander Pama and Air Force chief Lieutenant General Lauro Catalino de la Cruz were at the meeting with Dempsey.

Earlier in the day, Dempsey met with Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff
General Jessie Dellosa in Camp Aguinaldo.



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