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Washington grants $70 million more to modernize AFP

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The United States will provide $70 million in assistance to the Philippines to bankroll improvements to the country’s military infrastructure over the next two years, on top of the $100 million that the State Department wants to make available to help modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson said on Wednesday that the US is willing to extend help to the country as it is looking at more ways to expand the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and directly strengthen the work of both countries.

“These improvements are designed to enhance cooperative defense capacities and support humanitarian assistance disaster response activities, in ways that best meet the needs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the alliance,” Carlson said, during a Mangrove Forum held at the US Embassy in Manila.

Carlson said the US is leaving it to the Department of National Defense to decide on what specific projects they want to bankroll with the funds from Washington.

The US will not give a list of what it wants, although it encourages the country’s military to identify projects that will ensure security and territorial integrity.

The US ambassador also observed that despite challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, the military organizations of both countries have managed to maintain their alliance “at the tactical level” of security cooperation.

“In the coming months, we expect to hold our Bilateral Strategic Dialogue (BSD), and a 2+2 Dialogue of our senior-most foreign and defense officials,” the envoy said, adding that these meetings will \explore ways to modernize the alliance of both countries.

The US diplomat said that the improving bilateral relations between the US and the Philippines, which weakened during the previous administration, is not a “counterbalance” to the strengthening partnership between China and the Philippines.

Carlson said the US-Philippines relationship can stand on its own and is “inherently valuable” with the two countries’ 76 years of diplomatic relations that have nothing to do with China.

While the US, like any other countries in the world, wants to have “constructive relations” with China, Carlson said the US is also looking for partner countries that share its values, which include the view to have a “free, open, prosperous and secure world.”

“And so that inherently includes the Philippines as a key partner… If you have countries that don’t share the same leadership goals that don’t share open, free systems…that’s problematic and not meaningful for everyone,” she said in the same forum.

Carlson said the US stands ready to assist the Philippines in responding to any “threats and provocations,” including those that are caused by disputes over its sovereign rights and jurisdiction.

“In the South China Sea, as allies, we stand together to oppose attempts by those who seek to advance unlawful maritime claims in the Philippine exclusive economic zone or on its continental shelf,” she added.

“We call upon the PRC (People’s Republic of China) to fulfill its treaty obligations under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention to comply with the legally binding decision of the Arbitral Tribunal in 2016 [in favor of the Philippines],” she said.

Carlson reiterated US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s pronouncement that an armed attack on the Philippine military or public vessels and aircraft would invoke commitments of the US under its Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, meanwhile, said the Philippines expects the US to help Manila “pursue measures to de-escalate tensions while promoting an international law-based order in the region.”

“Beyond the initiatives to strengthen our individual and collective defense capabilities, however, is our overriding desire for peace, without which we would not be able to make progress in our ambitious socio-economic agenda,” Manalo said at the same forum.

”We count on the United States to help support us in upholding our sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea, which are based on international law,” he said.


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