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
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.