Envoy assures US aid to PH…for now

by Rodney Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at Aug 13 2011 09:24 AM | Updated as of Aug 14 2011 02:10 AM

WASHINGTON D.C. - Foreign aid already in the pipeline to the Philippines will not be affected by the budget crunch in Washington, US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. assured although he was unsure of future help.

“The debt ceiling does not affect our systems programs,” he explained, responding to concerns about the recent compromise agreement on Capitol Hill to slash the budget by $2.7 trillion in exchange for raising the US debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion. 
 
Thomas stressed that the cuts will not affect the $434 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact with the Philippines. “The MCC is fully funded for 5 years so that is not affected,” he explained.
 
But he added Congress will have to decide what systems programs they are carrying forward as the US implements austerity measures designed to reduce the country’s $14 trillion debt that already represents nearly 96 percent of the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
 
This has raised doubts about the Philippines’ ability to secure future aid, especially for defense and development. 
 
The Philippines received about $157 million in US aid in 2010. That amount went to various programs from livelihood opportunities for rebel returnees to eradicating tuberculosis to promoting the use of condoms.  
 
About $29 million went to the Foreign Military Fund (FMF), a large chunk of which paid for refurbishing the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, the Hamilton-class US Coast Guard cutter that’s expected to arrive in Manila this month and eventually lead Philippine Navy territorial defense operations in the disputed Spratly Islands.
 
A ranking Philippine diplomatic official revealed they have begun talks about Philippine maritime defense needs – a follow-through on a commitment made by State Secretary Hillary Clinton during a visit last June by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario. 
 
Brig. Gen. Cesar Yano, the country’s defense attaché in Washington, said the PH-US Mutual Defense Board is scheduled to meet in Hawaii next week.
 
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Eduardo Oban Jr. will lead the Philippine side in talks that’s expected to revolve around security threats in the South China Sea where the Philippines is locked in a squabble with China over the Spratly Islands. 
 
The State Department has sought almost $164 million in foreign aid for the Philippines in the Fiscal 2012 budget (which begins in September), including $15 million in FMF. 
 
In the past, the country’s allies on Capitol Hill, especially Senator Daniel Inouye who heads the appropriations committee, were able to double the money earmarked for the AFP, effectively raising the amount the US eventually doles out to the Philippines. 
 
But even Yano has doubts the US Congress can still be as generous with the current emphasis on cutting government spending. 
 
The MDB meeting next week is expected to crystallize what the AFP needs to patrol and defend the country’s sea border and only then can both sides talk about what the Philippines can get from America’s pool of Excess Defense Articles (EDAs).
 
“We’ll have to see what Congress will do,” Thomas advised. He suggested the Philippines can look out for its interests by lobbying Capitol Hill, even as he assured “Secretary Clinton is working very hard for the 150 account which covers the State, USAID and other budgets.”

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