Friday, April 27, 2012

Phl to seek military equipment from US

New military options and expanding trade and investment opportunities are likely the main issues to be discussed when the foreign and defense secretaries of the Philippines and the United States hold their first ever meeting here on April 30.
The Filipinos are expected to submit a list of military hardware they need for a credible maritime defense while the US, to counter China’s military, will seek bilateral arrangements including rotating more troops in the Philippines to help it remain engaged and forward deployed in Southeast Asia.
The meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin comes in the wake of rising tensions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) sparked by the standoff at Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) off Palawan, where Philippine and Chinese vessels are locked in a battle of nerves.
  Military sources said items likely to be considered include a Philippine request for another US Coast Guard cutter, a squadron of F-16s, communications and electronics equipment as well as modern weapons systems for its two previously acquired Coast Guard cutters.
To enhance its presence in the Asia Pacific area, the US wants to at least double the number of troops rotating in and out of the Philippines and increase joint exercises.
It also wants limited use of Subic or other military facilities for training and to rotate ships and spy aircraft, the sources said.
Presently, about 600 US servicemen are deployed on a rotating basis in Mindanao and there are some who want to see the deployment of US troops expanded to other parts of the country.
“The US is definitely trying to find new arrangements to enhance its presence in the region and support its security and there may be a prospect for us and our Filipino allies finding some use of the good training facilities that the Philippines has,” said Walter Lohman, director of Asian Studies at the Heritage Foundation think tank.
The Philippines has made no secret of its reliance on the US for its external defense.
Naval tacticians here see the Philippines, Singapore and Australia as cornerstones of a defensive triangle from which the US could watch over the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and the greater Pacific Ocean.
Singapore has agreed to host US combat ships and aircraft and Australia has agreed to the deployment of 2,500 US troops in Darwin.
The US and the Philippines are committed to building a stronger partnership in the economic sphere and the 2+2 conference is expected to pinpoint trade and investment opportunities to be pursued.
As a priority the Philippines is keen on having preferential access to the US market for clothing items.
The US, on the other hand, wants to resolve outstanding trade barriers in the Philippines that serve as an impediment to US exports, including restrictions on US meat and meat products.
A so-called Save Our Industries Act is pending in the US Congress that would allow Philippine-made apparel using US fabrics to enter the United States duty free to revive the garment and textile industries of both countries.
For the United States, the SAVE Act would expand US export of fabrics to the Philippines, from $11 million to up to $500 million annually within 3-5 years of implementation, and save/create some 3,000 jobs in the US textile industry.
For the Philippines, it would restore hundreds of thousands of apparel manufacturing jobs, and over $1 billion of Philippine apparel exports to the US lost since the lifting of the US apparel import quotas and the resulting dominance of China in the US market.
After the 2+2 conference the two Filipino Cabinet secretaries will have separate itineraries.
Gazmin would address the US-ASEAN business council May 2 at 10 a.m. while Del Rosario will speak at the Heritage Foundation at 11 a.m. on “common challenges and new developments in the Phl-US alliance.“
The Philippines will ask the US to provide the equipment that were removed from the warship acquired by the Navy last year during the 2+2 meeting in Washington.
Defense Undersecretary Honorio Azcueta said the Philippine contingent for the April 30 meet would also request the US for military equipment to beef up the country’s security.
“We will ask from the US some excess defense articles and the system that were removed from the first Hamilton class (Coast Guard cutter) that arrived earlier,” Azcueta said.

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