MANILA, Philippines - President Barack Obama renewed yesterday the United States’ commitment to its allies as he announced that Washington will provide two more ships to the Philippine Navy to boost its maritime security capabilities.
Obama said the pair of ships – a US Coast Guard cutter and a research vessel to map out local territorial waters – were part of a broader American plan to scale up assistance to naval forces in Southeast Asia, where coastal nations feel threatened by China’s aggressive moves to assert control over the South China Sea.
Obama reiterated that the US had an “ironclad commitment” to the Philippines – a US treaty ally – and a mutual commitment to free and safe navigation at sea.
He said the transfer of the two vessels is part of his country’s larger plan to support its allies and partners across the region, including the Philippines.
“We intend to transfer two additional ships to the Philippine Navy – a research vessel to help man its territorial waters and another Coast Guard cutter to bolster the Navy’s ability to conduct long endurance patrols,” Obama said during his visit to the Philippine Navy ship BRP Gregorio del Pilar in Manila yesterday.
“More capable navies and partnership with the United States are critical for the security of this region,” he added.
Obama made the announcement amid the ongoing territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
China claims more than 90 percent of the potentially oil-and-gas rich area while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims.
To assert what it claimed as its historic rights over the South China Sea, China occupied and built military facilities on some disputed areas, including those that are being claimed by the Philippines.
The Philippines, one of the weakest in the region in terms of military might, has challenged China’s expansive territorial claim before an international arbitral tribunal. The US has vowed not to take sides in the dispute but has called on claimants to follow the rule of law and to settle the issue peacefully.
Obama, who arrived in the country yesterday for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, said the US plans to provide $250-million worth of maritime security assistance to its partners and allies in the region. He reiterated that the US’s alliance with the Philippines – its treaty partner and oldest ally in Asia – is “unbreakable.”
“The United States has been committed to the security of this region for more than 70 years. We have a treaty obligation, ironclad commitment to the defense of our ally the Philippines,” the US president said.
Philippine Fleet Commander Rear Adm. Leopoldo Alano said the two frigates would be acquired though the US excess defense program.
“It will add (more ships) to our inventory (that can be used) in patrolling our territorial waters and exclusive economic zone,” Alano said in a chance interview.
Alano said the processing of transfer documents takes about six to eight months. He is hopeful that the two vessels will arrive before President Aquino steps down from office in 2016.
When asked what the US would get in return for the donation, Alano said: “We contribute to the security of the region so that would basically be the contribution that we would be giving to them.”
Alano was mum on China’s possible adverse reaction to the US donation.
“I am not in the position to state any relationship between this (donation) and the issues of the West Philippine Sea. My only reply is indeed, this would boost the capabilities of the Philippine Navy,” he said.
The US has provided two frigates to the Philippine Navy –BRP Gregorio del Pilar, which arrived in the country in 2011, and BRP Ramon Alcaraz, which was commissioned in 2013.
Obama yesterday toured the BRP Gregorio del Pilar hours after his arrival at the Villamor Airbase.
He said the visit underscored the “shared commitment” of the Philippines and the United States to secure the waters of the region and freedom of navigation.
“The ship that I just toured, a former US Coast Guard vessel, helps the Philippines respond to disasters, perform counter terrorism missions and patrol the South China Sea,” Obama said.
Alano said BRP Gregorio del Pilar was chosen as the venue of the visit because it was the first frigate donated by the US to the Philippines.
Alano said Obama and crewmembers of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar discussed the performance of the ship as well as its missions in the Philippine exclusive economic zone, territorial waters and disaster-hit areas.
The US president stayed inside the ship for about 30 minutes.
Also present during the tour were Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri and BRP Gregorio del Pilar commanding officer Capt. Vincent Sibala.
Aquino and Obama to meet
President Aquino wants to talk to Obama about retirement plans when they meet in the APEC summit, since both of them are leaving office next year.
Aquino said in a recent interview with the APEC Secretariat when asked about his personal experiences in interacting with leaders of the APEC member-economies and what he would like to do as he was meeting them again.
“It would be nice to see some of the leaders. For instance, President Obama and myself will be leaving office. I’ll be leaving by next year; I think he’ll be a little later by something like six months or so. Perhaps the exchange is on what we will do after leaving office,” said Aquino, who is set to meet Obama for bilateral talks and also during the leaders’ meetings.
Aquino said the APEC meetings also give him the opportunity to talk with Latin American leaders on how to tackle similar problems in governing their countries.
The President said when he met the leaders, most of them for the first time, he was in awe.
“Some of them have been in office and have gathered such media attention, in certain cases, for several years, decades even. You have all these questions on how did you manage such and such a problem, and so on and so forth,” Aquino said.
“Being at the top of the pyramid sometimes is extremely lonely, there’s no higher office that you could ask help from. When you finally do get a chance to talk to them, you find out that there is commonality of problems; there are sometimes commonality also of situations that happen in the solution of these problems,” the President said, adding: “At the end of the day, you find kindred spirits.”
Source: Nov 18 Philstar