US has expressed willingness to help the Philippines obtain a squadron of F-16

'Mothballed' F-16s are parked in the 'bone yard' at Davis-Monthan AFB The United States has expressed willingness to ...

'Mothballed' F-16s are parked in the 'bone yard' at Davis-Monthan AFB

The United States has expressed willingness to help the Philippines obtain a squadron of F-16 jet fighters to improve its defense capability, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said yesterday.

Del Rosario clarified, however, that this would not mean stationing of US naval vessels in the Philippines.

He admitted there is a plan to station US navy ships in the region but stationing them in the country was not discussed.

“It has not come up yet. What the US discussed with us is we see foreign policy of US for Asia and the Pacific. They are repositioning and re-balancing. They want to re-engage with Asia. The region has become a key driver in global politics,” Del Rosario said.

“They (US) discussed with us the cooperation with stationing 2,500 (troops) and two ships in Singapore but we did not discuss anything for the Philippines, except assistance to improve our capability... I do not think at this point it is being discussed. We are still in the process of refining the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement),” he said.

Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin will visit the US in February or March to meet with their counterparts.

Del Rosario said the US is ready to help improve the Philippines’ defense capability.

“We are trying to get the assistance of several countries to be able to take minimum and credible defense posture and the US expressed willingness to help us with two Hamilton-class cutters, and the second one is coming. We are also trying to obtain a squadron of F-16s under defense articles,” he said.

Del Rosario said the vessels and F-16s the Philippines would like to obtain were discussed with US officials, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“We actually discussed it already. We identified (the items) when I went to the US for the first meeting with Secretary Clinton. At the time I said we need to stand up and defend what we believe is ours and they said they would be willing to help,” Del Rosario said.

“My definition of squadron is 12 fighter jets (of) F16. This is a request and I was told it is being considered,” he said.

During her visit to Manila last month, Clinton delivered a strong message of assurance and support to the Philippines in protecting its maritime domain and improving territorial defense.

Although Clinton did not mention China, she vowed military support for the Philippines as she delivered a strong US statement from the deck of an American warship that arrived in Manila for her visit.

The territorial conflict and heightened tensions between China and the Philippines over the resource-rich West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) remain a critical factor in bilateral relations between the two neighbors.

Clinton said that as the Philippines moves to improve its territorial defense, the US is considering transferring a second patrol ship to help protect maritime domain.

Clinton said the US is now updating all its alliances in the region based on three guidelines.

She said the US is working to ensure that the core objectives of its alliances have the political support of the people.

Washington wants its alliances to be nimble, adoptive and flexible to continue to deliver results in this new world.

Clinton said the US will ensure that its collective defense capabilities and communications infrastructure are operationally and materially capable of deterring provocation.

She said the US is considering providing another vessel to the Philippines “as you move to improve your territorial defense and interdiction capability.”

The Philippines formally accepted in May a US Coast Guard Hamilton-class cutter acquired by the government through the US Foreign Military Sales program.

The cutter officially became the BRP Gregorio del Pilar and is the largest patrol ship in the Philippine Navy arsenal.

Del Rosario said in June that he submitted to the Pentagon the country’s “wish list” of military equipment to strengthen its capability in securing its maritime territory.

The list of equipment was determined by the Department of National Defense (DND) during a meeting with Del Rosario before he visited Washington. He confirmed that the list is for the maritime needs of the country.

According to Del Rosario, the Pentagon would send a team to Manila this year to look into the Philippines’ requirements for maritime security.

Washington has provided the Philippines $53 million for coast watch since 2007.

During his talks with Del Rosario at the Pentagon on June 24, former US Defense secretary Robert Gates expressed readiness to strengthen the Philippines’ capability in securing its maritime territory.

In a separate meeting by Del Rosario with US National Director for Intelligence (NDI) James Clapper, the US official pledged to enhance the NDI’s intelligence-sharing with the Philippines to heighten the latter’s maritime situational awareness and surveillance in the West Philippine Sea.

Defense options

Del Rosario conveyed to US defense officials that to complement the Excess Defense Articles (EDA), which the US traditionally turns over to the Philippines, he is exploring an option to access newer US military assets.

In response, US Defense Undersecretary for Policy Michelle Fluornoy said, “We would be happy to have our team look into the full range of requirements (for maritime security).”

She added: “We should not allow this perception that you are alone and we are not behind you.”

Clapper emphasized the US “has a long association” with the Philippines and “we’ll do whatever we can to help” even as he expressed concern over the recent incidents in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines conveyed to the US the country’s resolve to strengthen its capabilities to defend its maritime territory because it is “prepared to do what is necessary to stand up to any aggression in its backyard” amid the rising tension in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippine government’s preparedness to take action in the territorial dispute was conveyed during a meeting of Del Rosario and Clinton at the State Department on June 23.

Del Rosario and Clinton discussed the situation in the West Philippine Sea, and shared the view that the recent incidents there are a source of concern and could undermine regional peace and stability.

The two officials agreed to consult closely on ways to protect their shared interest in maintaining freedom of navigation, respect for international law, and unimpeded lawful commerce in the West Philippine Sea.

Del Rosario emphasized during the meeting the Philippine government’s resolve to strengthen its capabilities to defend its maritime territory “because the Philippines is prepared to do what is necessary to stand up to any aggressive action in our backyard.”

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