Top US commander visits PH

Rappler.com
The visit will strengthen military ties between both countries, according to the AFP

From left to right: US ambassador Harry Thomas, DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario, USPACOM Commander Samuel Locklear, President Benigno Aquino III. Photo courtesy of Malacañang

MANILA, Philippines – Admiral Samuel Locklear, chief of the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM), is on a 3-day visit to the Philippines to further boost ties between the armed forces of both countries, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said Monday, July 16.

The visit comes amid tensions between Manila and Beijing over the South China Sea.

Shortly after his arrival on Sunday, Locklear met with President Benigno Aquino III and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario before his Monday meeting with AFP chief of staff Gen Jessie Dellosa and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

Dellosa noted in a statement that the US admiral’s visit “reaffirms the strong alliance and the good relations between our armed forces.”

Locklear’s 3-day tour of the Philippines “further strengthens our bond and shared history, especially in the light of current regional developments in the Asia-Pacific, and other areas of engagement between our two militaries,” the AFP chief added.

Visit to Zamboanga

On Tuesday, July 17, the USPACOM Commander will fly to Zamboanga, where he will meet the troops from US Armed Forces Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines (JSOTF-P).

This unit, according to the official statement, “works together with the AFP to fight terrorism and deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Mindanao at the request of the Philippine Government.”

“These U.S. forces temporarily deployed to the Philippines plays a strictly non-combat role to advise and assist the AFP, share information, and conduct joint civil military undertaking in support of the peace and development activities of the government.”

Locklear will travel to a part of the country “where the alliance and partnership of both our armed forces has been, and continues to flourish,” Dellosa said.

Dellosa told Locklear that the AFP “gives you full assurance of our support to your leadership, and to future joint endeavors between our two organizations.”

The USPACOM Commander’s visit takes place 3 weeks after the joint PH-US Carat naval exercices were conducted in the Sarangani Bay area in Mindanao. (Read: PH-US in naval war games

China not discussed

During his meeting with Aquino, Locklear reaffirmed US support for “achieving a minimum credible defense position,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said on Monday.

Lacierda explained that the AFP is now focused on external defense and the US is willing to assist the Philippines in the process of acquiring more modern military hardware.

During a Palace press briefing, the spokesman described the meeting with Aquino as a mere “courtesy call” and the ongoing territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea was not discussed.

Lacierda added: “Any American official will come visit us, there’s always been a reaffirmation of our relationship with them and this is something which may have been given more emphasis considering the incident we have with China.” – Rappler.com