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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Speaker pushes for more US-PH exercises, military financing

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Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez sought the expansion of joint Ph-US military exercises and appealed for increased US military financing during his series of meetings with US lawmakers, including Sen. William Francis Hagerty of Tennessee.

He made the proposals during his engagements in the past three days with US lawmakers, including Hagerty, Sen. Christopher Van Hollen of Maryland, Rep. Gary Palmer of Alabama, and other US officials to promote national defense and regional security cooperation.

Romualdez underscored the importance of expanded multilateral joint military exercises in the Philippines not only to improve its defense strategies but also to foster stronger ties with other allies, ensuring peace and stability in the region.

He cited the effectiveness of the Balikatan exercises with the US and related activities with other regional allies.

“These exercises have shown their significant importance in boosting our tactical and operational prowess. With this program, we can improve stability, security, and peace in the Asia-Pacific region and better safeguard our nation,” Romualdez said

In a forum in Manila, Various experts, including former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief Emmanueln Bautista, pushed for broader international support for the Philippines amid China’s increased belligerency in the West Philippine Sea.

They made the statement in a closed-door forum on Thursday organized by international think tank Stratbase in partnership with the United States Institute of Peace.

In his presentation, Bautista recalled that only 21 countries expressed support for the Philippines when the Chinese Coast Guard once again fired water cannons against a resupply boat en route to Ayungin Shoal in March.

“We saw 21 countries support us in that incident but these are just 21 countries. There are over 100 countries around the world,” Bautista said.

“And note that the 21 countries we’re talking about, none of them are Southeast Asian countries, which are the most important,” he added.

“We hope more will speak out. We hope, especially, that our brothers in Southeast Asia will also speak out,” the former military chief also said.

Stratbase Institute President Dindo Manhit, on the other hand, condemned China’s gray zone tactics which “seek to destabilize a rules-based international order.”

“Our country continues to encounter such attacks in the West Philippine Sea in the form of shadowing, blocking, swarming strategies, laser incidents, water cannons, and even intentional collision incidents,” Manhit said.

“I don’t see risk, I see opportunities for the Filipino nation. But it takes a whole of Philippine society approach. It takes the Philippines as a whole talking with the international community,” Manhit stressed.

Brian Harding, USIP’s senior expert on Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, noted how the situation in the West Philippine Sea “escalated” over the last few months but stressed that the Philippines’ position is “much stronger than it was.”

“Certainly, the US-Philippines alliance has continued to build and deepen. There’s much more trust and I think this trilateral relationship, it’s pretty extraordinary – how this US-Japan-Philippines trilateral has come together,” Harding said.

He was referring to the April 12 trilateral summit where the three countries announced a stronger alliance.

AFP spokesperson Col. Francel Margareth Padilla-Taborlupa said the country is also beefing up military bases in strategic points and improving the rotation and resupply missions’ operational mix moving forward.

“We’d like to emphasize that with whatever the Armed Forces are taking actions in terms of our Rore missions in this West Philippine issue, we always have that foundation that we have the law on our side,” Taborlupa said.

Aside from the Speaker, the Philippine delegation included Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales Jr., Deputy Speaker David “Suarez, Majority Leader Manuel Jose Dalipe, Agusan del Norte Rep. Jose Aquino ll, House Secretary General Reginald Velasco, Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez, Ambassador to Japan Mylene Garcia-Albano, and House Deputy Secretary Generals Jennifer Baquiran and Sofonias Gabonada Jr., and other House officials and Philippine embassy officers.

Romualdez has proposed increasing United States foreign military financing (FMF) to the Philippines from $40 million.

“Given the strength of our alliance, the complexity of our evolving challenges, and our expanding engagements, I hope you will agree that the FMF also needs an increase,” Romualdez said.

He also expressed his “deep gratitude” to Hagerty, a Republican, and Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, a Democrat, for introducing in the US Senate the PERA of 2024, a bill that seeks $500 million a year in FMF for the Philippines for 2025 through 2029, or a total of $2.5 billion for five years.

The bipartisan measure was introduced last Tuesday, April 10, a day before the trilateral summit in Washington D.C. of US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.

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