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Strong US-PH defense ties assured

The United States on Thursday assured the Philippines of its commitment to further “strengthen” its defense ties with the country in the face of uncertainties and security challenges in the Asia-Pacific region. In a statement, the Foreign Affairs Department said that US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made the assurance when he met with Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario at the Pentagon. Even as the meeting was going on, a squadron of American fighter jets are scheduled to arrive in the next few days to take part in the 2013 Balikatan, a joint military exercise between the two countries. Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr. said the fighter jets would join 20 other aircrafts for the exercise, 14 of which had arrived at the Clark Air Base in Pampanga a few days ago. Burgos said the 12 FA-18 Hornets fighter jets will land at the same airbase.  The Hornets are twin-engine supersonic, all-weather carrier-capable fighter jets, designed to attack ground targets. The joint exercises to be participated by 8,000 Filipino and American troops will be officially declared open today (Friday) at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City. It will run through April 17 in Luzon, particularly in Zambales and Tarlac. Del Rosario, meanwhile,  said that Hagel had expressed that there was a need for the Philippines and the US to further deepen their partnership to uphold peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” del Rosario said. The DFA chief added that the US official “expressed his appreciation” to what the Philippines is doing in the region and noted that our partnership is critical in our part of the world. The meeting with del Rosario was Hagel’s first with a senior Philippine official since taking over the helm at the Pentagon in February. The meeting followed a separate discussion between del Rosario and Secretary of State John F. Kerry—the former Massachusetts senator’s first face-to-face encounter with a senior Filipino official since he succeeded Secretary Hillary R. Clinton at the State Department early this year. Del Rosario provided Pentagon officials an update on Manila’s efforts to peacefully resolve the disputes in the West Philippine Sea, particularly its decision to seek arbitration. “The Pentagon was supportive of our arbitration initiative, especially because it is consistent with efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the dispute without resorting to coercion,” Del Rosario said. Hagel said that developing the two countries alliance was “very, very important at this point in time,” referring to the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea and North Korea’s war posturing in the Korean peninsula. “I articulated that the Philippine Government is committed to see through the arbitration proceedings to its conclusion. We will not slow down on this effort,” del Rosario explained. The region is currently reeling from China’s enormous economic and military growth, which has impacted on Beijing’s relationships with its neighbors especially because of its  overlapping claims in the West Philippine Sea and East China Sea. The Philippines and Japan, both allies of the United States, are locked in their own territorial disputes with China. Del Rosario said Hagel also expressed satisfaction with the progress being made on the increase of US military rotational presence in the Philippines. Also discussed during the meeting were the US support for the modernization plans of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,  the situation in Sabah and North Korea, and the investigation of the grounding of the USS Guardian, including the participation of the Philippines in the probe and the conduct of an environmental impact assessment of the incident. Also present during the Pentagon meeting were Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose L. Cuisia Jr., Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for American Affairs Carlos D. Sorreta, Deputy Chief of Mission Maria Andrelita S. Austria, Defense Attache Brig. Gen. Cesar B. Yano, and Director Rosalita S. Prospero of the Office of American Affairs of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Joining Hagel in the meeting were other senior Pentagon officials namely Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Peter Lavoy.   With Macon Araneta and Florante S. Solmerin
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