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US solons push for $2.5b military aid to PH

Photo shows journalists filming a US Air Force F-16 fighter jet as it takes off during the US-Philippines joint air force military exercise dubbed ‘Cope Thunder’ at Basa Air Base in Pampanga on April 11. AFP
Charles Dantes & Maricel Cruz

On the eve of the Philippines-US-Japan trilateral summit, two leading US senators on Wednesday introduced a bipartisan bill to provide Manila with an additional $2.5 billion (P141.3 billion) to boost its defenses against Chinese pressure.

Republican Bill Hagerty — a former ambassador to Japan — and Democrat Tim Kaine filed a bill authorizing $500 million (P28.3 billion) a year in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grant assistance to the Philippines over five fiscal years to 2029.

In 2022, the United States said it was making $100 million (P5.65 billion) in FMF available to the Philippines, underscoring greatly improved defense ties between the treaty allies under President Marcos, whose predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, had sought warmer ties with China.

The bill requires the US Secretary of State, in coordination with the Pentagon, to submit an annual spending plan to Congress on how the USgovernment would spend the grant and an annual report on steps taken to enhance the US-Philippines defense relationship.

The latter would include a description of the capabilities needed tomodernize Philippine defense capabilities. Hagerty’s office said areas could include coastal defense, long-range fires, integrated air defenses, maritime security, manned and unmanned aerial systems,mechanized ground mobility vehicles, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and defensive cybersecurity.

Meanwhile, the White House said Thursday (Manila time) that China need not “overreact” to the quadrilateral maritime exercise last weekend among the Philippines, the US, Japan, and Australia in the West Philippine Sea.

In a press conference, White House National Security CommunicationsAdvisor John Kirby said the quadrilateral maritime cooperation in thePhilippines’ exclusive economic zone is “about freedom of navigation [and] adherence to international law.”

“I can’t speak for the PRC (People’s Republic of China) reaction, oneway or another, except to say there is no reason to overreact to this,” Kirby said.

“It’s about proving the simple point that we and our allies will fly,sail and operate wherever international law permits us to do and itdoes in the South China Sea, and we did,” he added.

Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez said the first-ever trilateralsummit is a tacit recognition of the leadership of President Marcos and his foreign policy stance of being a friend to all and an enemy to none.

“This historic summit is an unequivocal recognition of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s leadership, bringing the Philippines to theforefront of regional cooperation and diplomacy,” said Romualdez, leader of the 309-strong House of Representatives.

“The outcomes of the trilateral summit affirm our country’s commitmentto fostering strong and mutually beneficial partnerships with key allies like the United States and Japan,” he added.

Biden’s three-way meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and President Marcos follows repeated confrontations between Chinese and Philippine vessels in the hotly contested waterway.

“President Marcos is coming under pressure from the PRC’s aggressive tactics,” a senior US administration official told reporters, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China.

“What you’ll see is a clear demonstration of support and resolve from both President Biden and Prime Minister Kishida. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Marcos.”

The three countries are expected to announce new joint naval exercisesalong with Australia, like drills they had in the region at theweekend, officials said. They are also set to unveil new economic cooperation measures.

Ranking members of the House also declared that the historic summit serves as a compelling call for international solidarity in upholding a rules-based order.

Deputy Speaker and Quezon Rep. David Suarez said the meeting aimed to strengthen the enduring alliance among the three nations while emphasizing their shared commitment to international law and order.

“This momentous gathering not only symbolizes unity but also underscores the urgent need for global solidarity in preserving the rules-based international system. Like what our good Speaker Martin G.Romualdez said, such a system forms the cornerstone of lasting peace, stability, and prosperity across nations,” said Suarez.

Senior Deputy Speaker and Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales said the trilateral meeting between the three great leaders served as a rallying cry for a rules-based order in the world and is especially important amid the rising tension in the heavily disputed West Philippine Sea.

“We all recognize that the WPS is a vital conduit for global trade, and it should remain that way,” Gonzales said.

The WPS facilitates an estimated $5 trillion worth of trade passing through its waters annually, accounting for over 60 percent of global maritime trade and 22 percent of total global trade.

House Majority Leader and Zamboanga City Rep. Manuel Jose Dalipeechoed Gonzales’ statement, saying it is important to focus on thefreedom of navigation in the WPS as an example of a rules-based world system.

“The freedom of navigation in these waters is paramount, facilitating trade, communication, and regional security. The trilateral meeting aimed to enhance cooperation among the three nations to safeguard this essential right effectively,” Dalipe said.

Hagerty said the funds would “profoundly strengthen and modernize the defense and deterrence capabilities” of the US-Philippines alliance.

Kaine said it was “pivotal that the people of the Philippines have the resources and support they need in the face of those threats.”

Kirby said the US government has been watching over the tensions in the WPS “with great concern” and is urging China to adhere to the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 ruling which upheld the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the WPS.

He said Biden, during his recent telephone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, expressed Washington’s concerns over Beijing’s incursions in the disputed waters.

“We again urge the PRC to abide by the 2016 ruling, and to recognize as we do that the second time a show of force within the Philippine economic exclusion area and we will continue to make that point when the President spoke to President Xi, he very clearly made our concerns known about Chinese activities in the South China Sea,” Kirby said.

The Philippines, a long-term ally of the United States, has become increasingly important strategically in US and Japanese efforts to push back against China and has needed funding to modernize its long-neglected armed forces.

The Philippines on April 7 held a maritime cooperative activity (MCA) with the US, Japan, and Australia in WPS, amid growing tensions in the South China Sea.

The MCA included anti-submarine warfare training, tactical, link and photo exercises, demonstrating the four countries’ collective commitment to strengthen regional and international cooperation in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific. With AFP

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