MANILA, Philippines - The commander of the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) discussed with top defense and military officials the tension in the West Philippine Sea behind closed doors yesterday.
Visiting USPACOM commander Adm. Samuel Locklear III also took up with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista and Navy chief Vice Adm. Jose Luis Alano the Phl-US defense and military relations at Camp Aguinaldo.
In a statement, Department of National Defense (DND) public affairs acting chief Anne Marie Sta. Ana said the US and the Philippines reaffirmed the importance of bilateral relations with the emerging traditional and non-traditional security challenges in the Asia-Pacific region.
“The admiral discussed how the US could contribute in enhancing the capability of the AFP in meeting emerging security challenges to include maritime security,” she said.
Sta. Ana said US troops in the Asia-Pacific and in the Philippines were also discussed, including high value and high impact exercises.
“Admiral Locklear also gave assurance that in spite of the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, the US remains committed to its policy of rebalancing to Asia, emphasizing that the rebalance includes political, economic and military aspects.”
Locklear reiterated to Gazmin, Bautista and Alano that the US remains concerned about developments in the area.
The presence of Chinese ships near Ayungin Shoal is causing some inconvenience to Filipino troops deployed aboard the grounded Navy landing tank ship, BRP Sierra Madre.
Since his assumption as USPACOM commander last year, Locklear has been in the country thrice.
His first visit was in July and then in December.
HIKE MILITARY, POLICE BUDGETS
Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento wants to increase the 2014 budgets of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) to upgrade their capability against external and internal threats.
“We need to fast-track the AFP modernization in the light of the increasing challenges in the West Philippine Sea and the continuing problem against terrorists and communist insurgents,” he said.
“The country appears helpless in its efforts to safeguard the integrity of the country’s sovereignty and the loss of lives resulting from the recent ambuscades perpetrated by the NPAs and the Abu Sayyaf bandits.”
The chairman of the House of Representatives committee on national defense and security sees the need to accelerate the AFP modernization program and augment the capabilities of the PNP’s internal security programs.
The remaining stumbling block to achieve full development potential is the country’s “unsteady peace and order situation,” he added.
Under the 2013 General Appropriations Act, the DND is allotted a budget of P80.61 billion, while the overall funding for the Department of the Interior and Local Government is P92.35 billion. -- Jaime Laude, Paolo Romero