US nixes aid plea

Wary of graft, Obama rejects Aquino’s $300M request

THE United States has rebuffed President Benigno Aquino III’s request for $300 million in military aid this year because “it worries about corruption” and the country’s capacity to handle an influx of resources, the New York Times reported this week.

The same report, quoting a senior Philippine official who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the request was made in private talks in which the Philippines argued the need for a substantial buildup of planes and ships to deter Chinese expansionism.

The Sept. 19 story in the Times, “Warily Eyeing China, Philippines May Invite US Back to Subic Bay,” drew a strong reaction Monday from a leftist lawmaker, who demanded that the Aquino administration disclose details of the secret aid request as well as plans to reopen the US military base in Subic Bay.

“We find it traitorous for the Aquino administration to run to Washington and covertly seek funding for military improvements without even consulting or disclosing such a request, even to the leadership of the legislature,” said Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon. “We call on the Executive department to immediately disclose details of this failed bid, especially as Congress is currently discussing the national budget.”

Ridon also twitted the Aquino administration for being rebuffed because of corruption.

“[US President Barack] Obama’s refusal to give in to Aquino’s secret wish due to corruption and capacity issues… shows the extent of the Philippine government’s bad reputation when it comes to handling foreign aid. It seems that even the master is distrusting his loyal lapdog,” Ridon added.

Ridon said the New York Times report validated speculation that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that the country signed with the United States  would be used to reopen US military bases in Subic and Clark, which were booted out in 1991 in a historic vote in the Senate.

“When EDCA was signed, we warned against Washington’s economic and political motives, and now we’re seeing that such fear is not unfounded,” Ridon said

While acknowledging the need to strengthen the country’s territorial defenses, especially in light of China’s heightened encroachment in the West Philippine Sea, Ridon said the Philippines needs to guard against other powers, particularly the US, that would exploit the conflict to advance their own interests.

“The threat that Beijing poses for our national security is real and significant, yet it does not necessarily mean that we should allow US military forces unprecedented entry to our military bases and facilities. Claiming to defend national sovereignty from one bully by surrendering it to another bully is simply illogical,” he added.

“The US solution is not the answer to the growing unrest in the West Philippine Sea. We have entered into several similar pacts in the past, but did our country benefit from it? Clearly, no. Instead, agreements like the VFA [Visiting Forces Agreement] and the MDT [Mutual Defense Treaty] only served to further undermine our national sovereignty, drag us into Washington’s wars, and exploit our people and resources,” he said.

Ridon insisted that the so-called “US pivot in Asia” is part of a larger US scheme to ensure China’s cooperation with the US, as laid out in former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy essay “America’s Pacific Century.”

“In the final analysis, the Philippines is again serving as a mere pawn in this hostile game of gaining the upper hand in the Asia-Pacific region,” Ridon said.

In Camp O’ Donnell in Capas, Tarlac, the Army test-fired six US-made M113A2 armored personnel carriers that the Defense Department acquired through a grant from the US Army for excess stock, and which were refurbished by the Israeli company Elbit Systems.

The APCs were the first of 28 units that Elbit Systems is refurbishing for the Defense Department under a 2013 contract approved by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

The acquisition of 114 units more of same model through a grant in 2012 by the US DSCA has been approved.

Reports said the Defense Department had an allocated budget of P880 million to buy 14 new APCs but the Army chose to use the funds instead to refurbish used armored vehicles with modern technology and weapons systems.

Each APC was refurbished for P132 million.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the refurbished armored vehicles used Israeli technology and featured a remote control weapons system from Australia

Maj. Gen. Mayoralgo dela Cruz, commander of the Army’s Mechanized Infantry Division, said they were satisfied with refurbished units and the results of the live-fire tests.

“The firepower is accurate, and the gunner doesn’t have to leave the vehicle.  He’s inside and it’s like he’s playing a computer game where we can see the enemy at long range,” Dela Cruz said.

The units need to be passed by the Technical Inspection and Acceptance Committee before they can be turned over to the MID for deployment, he said.

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