Photo by Noel Celis/Pool/EPA
MANILA, Philippines – The United States is considering to give the Philippines "advanced equipment" in the face of the Southeast Asian country's dispute with China over the South China Sea, the Philippines' top diplomat said.
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter confirmed this plan to help its former colony, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Wednesday, April 15.
"According to the new Department of Defense secretary in the United States, Secretary Carter, they are already looking at deploying to the Philippines various advanced equipment – air force equipment, naval equipment, maritime domain equipment – and these were outlined by Secretary Carter recently. And we welcome this," Del Rosario said in an interview with ANC's news program Headstart.
Handling these sophisticated equipment, Del Rosario noted, "will require US presence."
"We have not talked about to what extent this will happen, but with those equipment, you can surmise that there will be US presence," he said.
Del Rosario pointed out that "it's the first time we're hearing about" this proposal, as it was first announced "a few days ago."
"We have not engaged in discussions. We will find out more about what these plans involve," he added.
The Philippines is seeking more support from the US as China builds artificial islands to claim the disputed South China Sea, parts of which Filipinos call the West Philippine Sea. (READ: US defense chief: Expanded Balikatan deepens PH-US ties)
PH's top diplomat to visit US
Del Rosario, the Philippines' former ambassador to the US, said he will fly to Washington DC in about two weeks "to discuss the West Philippine Sea and the reclamation issues." (READ: China reclamation meant to 'define' 9-dash line – PH)
"I want to meet with members of [US] Congress, of course, who control the purse strings in terms of what the Philippines is looking for," he said.
He also plans to meet with Carter and US Secretary of State John Kerry "if the schedule permits."
Despite threats from China, the presence of US troops remains a thorny issue in the Philippines.
The Philippine Senate ejected US bases from the Philippines in 1991, but 7 years later, ratified the Visiting Forces Agreement that allowed American troops to conduct regular military exercises in the Philippines.
Then in 2014, the Philippines and the US signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that gives American troops greater access to Philippine military facilities.
Critics say the presence of US troops in the Philippines is prone to abuse, leading, for instance, to cases of rape and murder. (READ: 10 pm curfew, nightclub ban imposed on US troops in PH)
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.