US-PH defense sea force eyed
Joint move to protect territorial waters
A high-ranking US military official said on Wednesday that the US government was considering establishing a “strong” defense force with the Philippines’ armed forces capable of handling the country’s “strategic interest” in the South China sea.
Speaking during the sidelines of the closing ceremony of the Balikatan 2013, Gen. Terry Robling, commander of the US Marine Corps Forces in the Pacific, said he hoped to get the defense force to the point of becoming a “national maneuver force” that is best designed for territorial defense.
“One of the things that I talked to (Philippine military chief) Gen. (Emmanuel) Bautista about was a roadmap for us training with the armed forces of the Philippines,” Robling told reporters.
“I think, at some point, that will happen, but probably, not in the next exercise,” he added.
Robling added that while the territorial disputes in the Asia-Pacific region will have to be worked on through diplomatic channels, “having a strong defense” is also one tool that can be used.
The Philippines and China remained locked in a territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea, specifically in the islets surrounding the Spratly Islands, and the resource-rich Panatag Shoal in Palawan.
But Robling added that the military ties between the US and the Philippines may have helped prevent the escalation of territorial dispute.
Other claimant countries of some of the territories in the South China Sea are Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia.
The Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises have been going for the past several years as provided in the PH-US 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty that later gave birth to the Visiting Forces Agreement.1
And for the first time, China has sent a representative to the Balikatan to observe round-table discussions that focused on humanitarian affairs and disaster relief operations.
“Very significant,” said Robling of China’s participation. “There is no one country that has domain over that (disaster relief operations) and we need every country in the region to be able to hold together and help countries in need. Certainly, having China for the very first time at least (to) watch how we do table top exercises and the things that we talked about I think will help them be better partners in the future.”
Beijing’s representative joined other delegates from Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Thailand, South Korea and Vietnam.
Maj. Gen. Virgilio Domingo, the Balikatan 2013 exercise director from the Philippine side, said officials for Balikatan 2014 will have to discuss whether similar drills will be held again in Palawan.
Robling said that Balikatan 2013, which opened April 5, not only strengthened the Philippines and U.S. forces’ combined ability to defend each other, but it also “improved the multinational military and civilian disaster response coordination in Southeast Asia and throughout the region.”
Even with the fresh threats from North Korea, Balikatan proved to be an opportunity for the Philippines and the United States to ensure their “operational readiness” against “any emergency that both our countries may face,” Domingo added.
Robling also touched on North Korea’s threat of a nuclear attack in the region, saying that the US has at least seven defense treaty partners that can deal with the situation.
Robling said they are now looking forward on the possibility of conducting a multi-lateral military exercises with partner countries.
“We will begin that planning next week and we’ll take a look at that. Well, we certainly are looking at other countries like Japan and Australia,” he said.
As this developed, a congressional reports said that the US was footing more of the bill for overseas bases in Germany, Japan and South Korea even as the military reduces the number of American troops in Europe and strategically repositions forces in Asia,
The exhaustive, yearlong investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee focused on costs and burden-sharing as the United States spends more than $10 billion a year to back up the U.S. military presence overseas, with 70 percent of the amount expended in the three nations. The figure does not include military personnel costs. With AP
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