DFA: Yolanda shows need for PH-US accord
MANILA, Philippines – Foreign assistance that has helped speed up relief and rescue operations in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) has "demonstrated" the need to allow increased rotational presence of American troops in the country, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Monday, November 22.
Allowing increased troop visits – to improve humanitarian assistance and faster disaster response – is part of the framework agreement that the Philippines and the United States are working out.
"It accentuates the main purposes of the framework which is to make humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and response a very major aspect of the agreement," Del Rosario said during a press briefing with 3 US congressmen who are here to coordinate US assistance to the typhoon-ravaged areas.
Arizona Representative Trent Franks assured the Philippines of America's commitment, saying that it is better for the Philippines and US military forces to stick together.
"We certainly not only have great common potential opponents to deal with, but we have a great commitment to being in common in going forward in peace efforts," Franks said.
The proposed deal would allow more US troops, aircraft and ships to pass through the Philippines at a time when Washington is refocusing its attention on Asia.
It had also been seen as a counterweight to Chinese moves in the South China Sea, where Beijing has territorial disputes with US ally Manila.
It is expected to execute the terms and conditions of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). The MDT requires the Philippines and the US to protect each other in times of attacks, while the VFA allows the presence of US military in the country. (READ: FAQs: Boosting US troops' presence in PH)
Despite months of talks, the Philippine and US governments have failed to sign the agreement due to some differences in their respective positions.
However the United States, particularly its military, has burnished its image in the former US colony through its extensive relief work after the typhoon ravaged the central Philippine islands, leaving almost 7,000 dead or missing.
Planes and helicopters from a US carrier group are leading an airlift of emergency aid to dozens of affected towns and villages.
A US military statement also said that at its peak, 13 US ships and nearly 8,000 American sailors and marines were involved in the relief efforts, particularly in transporting much-needed food and water.
The United States is one of the biggest foreign donors in the aftermath of Yolanda, having given US$22.5 million in financial support so far and more than 50 ships and aircrafts to assist search-and-rescue operations and to airlift emergency supplies.
The Philippines previously hosted huge US military bases but the last of these closed in 1992.
Washington says it does not seek new bases but only a greater "rotational" presence.
New Jersey Representative Chris Smith, who led the delegation, said that the calamity had a positive effect on the two countries' bilateral relations – it brought them closer.
"We realized that this is the jewel of the friendship. We must preserve it at all costs," he said. "I think every other [deal] including the economic TPP and all other ongoing negotiations will all be given a positive boost as a direct result of this."
Smith, Franks, and Texas Representative Al Green are in the country to coordinate relief efforts being brought in by the US, and to make an assessment of what other forms of assistance the Philippines may need.
"We are looking at where the unmet needs are, certainly in the area of housing," Smith said after seeing first hand on Sunday the devastation in the Visayas. He said the damage was "colossal."
Smith and the rest of the congressional delegation promised to relay to US Congress what they saw and learned about the tragedy left by Yolanda, and how to marry it up with possible "robust and generous responses" by working together with their executive branch.
Beware of traffickers
Smith, who has been a US congressman for 33 years, has sponsored bills to prevent human trafficking.
During the press conference, he urged people and the media to help in the dissemination of information about possible human trafficking that may occur in areas that were affected by the super typhoon.
"There may be people who will entice women and, to some extent, children in engaging in sex trade," Smith said. Such incidents have happened in other areas affected by disasters, so it is a must to send the word out.
He urged the media to help mitigate exploiters who use such tragedies for their schemes. He said people should also be aware that if someone comes up to them with an offer of a job in a different country, they should first examine it. "If it's too good to be true, it probably is."
Typhoon Yolanda made 6 landfalls in several provinces on November 8. The death toll is pegged at over 5,000 as of posting, with about 23,000 injured and over 1,000 thousand. The damage to agriculture and property is estimated to be worth billions. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com