Wednesday, November 25, 2015

US raises military funding for PH

From ABS-CBN (Nov 25): US raises military funding for PH
MANILA - The Philippines is set to receive a "high amount" of foreign military funding in 2016 after receiving $79 million in bilateral assistance from the US this year, US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg confirmed Wednesday.

Speaking to ANC's Headstart, Goldberg said US President Barack Obama has promised that a big part of $140 million in foreign military funding in the region in 2016 will go to the Philippines.

"A good sum of that will go to the Philippines. We have upped our foreign military funding for the Philippines. It will be somewhere in the range of US$79 million this year. It was originally targeted at $50 million. And 2016 will be a high amount as well. It's increasing and what has been proposed is something called maritime security initiative in the region," he said.

The White House earlier said the Philippines remains the largest recipient of maritime security assistance, which is largely focused on "building the training and logistical base for expanding the Philippine Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Forces’ ability to conduct operations within waters off the Philippines’ coasts."

Goldberg also confirmed the US government will be donating two vessels - the research vessel R/V Melville and the US Coast Guard cutter, the Boutwell - to the Philippines next year.

US President Barack Obama earlier said the R/V Melville can be used for research in maritime areas, while the Boutwell can be used to beef up patrols in the West Philippine Sea.

Obama: US to give 2 more ships to PH

The ambassador said the two vessels will be donated to the Philippine government as part of the US' Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program to rapidly enhance the capability of the Philippines.

"The hydrographic ship, the research ship, will be here sometime in the middle of next year," he said.
He added the Coast Guard cutter will be transformed into a frigate by the Philippines and brought to the country by the second half of 2016.

Goldberg said that under the EDA program, equipment retired by the US military is offered to its allies. This is what happened to the BRP Del Pilar, which was formerly the high endurance cutter "Hamilton" that was commissioned into the US Coast Guard in March 1967.

The 3,390-ton naval ship was transferred to the Philippine government and commissioned into the Philippine Navy on December 2011.

"The Coast Guard cutter was highly desired by many countries but because of our close relationship with the Philippines, we decided... and the need here got the Philippines bumped up in the list. They are getting the Coast Guard cutter. There are costs involved. There are transfer costs, there are upgrades, there are training costs and those are incurred by the receiving country but the ship itself is donated," Goldberg said.

The ambassador said the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which is now being questioned before the Supreme Court, will also be beneficial to Manila's territorial claims.

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks to reporters after touring the Philippine Navy's BRP Gregorio Del Pilar at Manila Harbor. Reuters

EDCA was among the topics discussed by President Aquino and US President Barack Obama last week.

Although the agreement is not directly tied to the West Philippine Sea, Goldberg said it will help boost US presence in the region and promote peace while boosting the military capabilities of the Philippines.

"EDCA is in the mutual security interests of both countries. The reason that it is in the interests of the Philippines is because of what we propose to do under the EDCA. We proposed more cooperation in terms of maritime security, an issue that has emerged as a new interest and a new challenge for the Philippine armed forces. We will be able to pre-supply equipment and put things here. We will be able to have rotational forces all on sovereign Philippine territory, these are not bases and not anything like what we have in the past," he said.

Goldberg said he is disappointed that China did not participate in the UN arbitration process with regards to its competing claims in the West Philippine Sea.

He said the US supports a peaceful diplomatic solution to the sea row, which is one of the steps agreed upon with the Philippines to ease tension in the disputed territory.

"And that's why the United States has supported the Philippines to bring that case even if we haven't made our claims ourselves, even if we haven't had any positions on the claims themselves. We think those should be settled in the context of international arbitration or through bilateral negotiation whichever way is done in a peaceful manner, not through unilateral steps," he said.

US President Barack Obama earlier said China must stop land reclamation in the disputed South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea. He said he and President Aquino "agreed on the need for bold steps to lower tensions including pledging to halt further reclamation, new construction, and militarization of disputed areas in the South China Sea."

"As President Aquino indicated, disputes need to be resolved peacefully, that's why the United States supports the Philippines' decision to use arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to peacefully and lawfully address differences," Obama said.

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