By Dale De Vera, News5
(November 7, 2019) WASHINGTON, D.C.— The United States has increased military funding to help modernize the local armed forces, Manila’s diplomats to the United States said on Thursday, amid rising tension in the disputed South China Sea.
Philippine embassy officials said the level of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) has been increasing since President Rodrigo Duterte was swept into office in 2016 despite his anti-American rhetoric and pro-China policies.
Speaking to a select group of visiting Filipino journalists, Philippine Ambassador to US Jose Manuel Romualdez said this only show how US supports the plan to modernize the Philippine military.
“We have indicated that we would like to really modernize and upgrade our Armed Forces” Romualdez said. “We want to really give it a very strong defense posture. I think they too would like to see us be able to do. Kaya nga mutual defense treaty ‘di ba? Dapat mutually defensible tayo.”
When asked to describe the state of Philippine-American relations, he said: “I think our relationship with this country is probably one of its best.”
Minister and Consul Rosanna Villamor-Voogel of the Philippine Embassy in Washington also said the country received a bigger amount of foreign military finance assistance from the U.S. government in the last two years
“We recently received news actually that the assistance combined to be provided by the US government would amount to about $53 million and that is higher than two years ago,” Villamor-Voogel said.
Villamor-Voogel said the significant military aid is only an indication of the continued interest of the US government to find ways to help and complement the priority of President Duterte.
Figures from the US State Department showed the FMF for the Philippines in 2014 amounted to $50 million and went even lower in 2015 at $40 million – the last two years in the previous administration.
Duterte was elected in 2016.
In a briefing at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, Minister and Consul Gunther Sales explained that since fiscal year 2016, the Philippines has received a total of $554.55 million in defense assistance from the US State Department as well as US Defense Department.
“Broken down, $267.75 million has come from foreign military financing, including Southeast Asia Maritime security assistance and another $73 million plus in fiscal year 2018 assistance another $278.8 million in DOD Security Assistance and over $8 million in international military education and training funds,” Sales explained.
Meanwhile, Director of the Office of Maritime Southeast Asia of the US Department of State Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Mark Clark, told Filipino journalists that the two countries continue to cooperate closely in other important security areas with counter-terrorism among others.
Clark said, “as friends and allies, we stand together with the Philippines to pursue and promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, a region which all countries large and small secure their sovereignty, remain free of coercion and are able to prosper into the future.”
“We remain dedicated to working together with the Philippine government together with the Filipino people to pursue our common goal of shared goals of security and prosperity,” he added.
The Philippines has partial claims in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway also claimed bu Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and China.
US has been transferring surveillance equipment to enhance the country’s maritime domain awareness in the South China Sea.
US and Philippine militaries have been holding maritime security drills near the disputed waters believed to be rich in energy resources. (MM)