|The Lockheed P-3 Orion is used by the US Navy for maritime patrol, reconnaissance, anti-surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare. - US Air Force photo
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - The United States -- and not the Philippines -- made the initial offer to deploy surveillance aircraft in the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told reporters in January that Manila was considering the US proposal to deploy surveillance aircraft to the Philippines.
He explained that the move would strengthen the Philippines' ability to guard its vast territory, including the West Philippine Sea.
"There would be stability in the region, that we would have enough deterrent," Gazmin said. "Without a deterrent force, we can be easily pushed around, our territories will be violated. Now that we have a good neighbor on the block, we can no longer be bullied."
He said security talks have been ongoing between Manila and Washington over the plan, which includes the deployment of more US ships and aircraft in the region.
The talks, however, do not include new US military bases in the Philippines.
Adm. Samuel Locklear, the head of the US Pacific Command, specifically proposed the deployment of P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft in August 2011, according to Reuters.
This jibes with President Benigno Aquino's statement Monday that his administration is considering the deployment of the said airplanes amid the Philippines' ongoing territorial dispute with China.
"We might be requesting overflights on that," Aquino told Reuters, referring to U.S. P=3C Orion spy planes. "We don't have aircraft with those capabilities."
US pivot in Asia-Pacific
The Obama administration unveiled in January a new security strategy that involves the strengthening of US military forces in the Asia-Pacific.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a Singapore forum that by 2020, 60 percent of US warships, including 6 aircraft carriers, would be assigned to the Asia-Pacific region, up from the current 50 percent.
The US has a fleet of around 282 ships, which had been divided into the Pacific and Atlantic commands.
"We have a strong presence now in the Pacific, but we’ll continue to strengthen that presence over the next five to 10 years," Panetta said on June 1, according to a US Department of Defense transcript.
"We want to do that through a key element of our new strategy which is developing these innovative rotational exchanges and deployments that we’ve already begun to do in Australia, that we’re working on in the Philippines," he said, citing Washington's treaty alliance with Manila.
"We want to strengthen our power projection as well. We’re going to be having a higher proportion of our forces that will be located in the Asia-Pacific," he said.
"We’re implementing a very new strategy in this region. We’re moving away from the Cold War strategy where you build permanent bases and just basically impose our power on the region," Panetta explained. "We’re moving towards a very innovative and creative relationship in which we develop these rotational deployments that we work with these countries to develop their capabilities, that we strengthen the partnerships for the future."
"We are testing that approach in Australia. We’re working on developing the same kind of approach in the Philippines and elsewhere," he added.
Stronger Philippine-US defense alliance
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited the Philippines last month to meet with President Aquino and Lt. Gen. Jessie Dellosa, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff.
Dempsey's spokesman, Marine Corps Col. David A. Lapan, said the visit is part of the Pentagon's engagement with its "key partners and allies to consult on furthering military-to-military relationships in the region" as part of the US rebalancing strategy in the Asia-Pacific.
Details of the high-level talks were not discussed.
A few days later, Aquino went to Washington to meet Obama in one-on-one talks.
The 2 leaders reaffirmed the 2 countries' defense alliance amid the high tension between Manila and Beijing over ownership of Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
Aquino and Obama renewed their commitment to the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty, as well as to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region.
Kurt Campbell, US Assistant State Secretary for East Asia and the Pacific, told a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum in Washington on June 26 that the Obama administration wants to help the Philippines improve its defense capabilities.
"It's very clear, the president (Obama) underscored our strong support of the Philippines. We laid out clearly, when the president (Aquino) visited, a number of areas that we’re going to be working together.," Campbell said.
"I know that you appreciate that the United States recently provided another cutter to the Philippines. We want to assist them in the building of capacity. We also believe that there will be future appropriate engagements between the United States and the Philippines that will improve our mutual capacities," he said. "We believe our relationship and the security treaty between us is very strong."
Campbell said Philippine-US relations are in "the midst of a renaissance."
"We had a very successful visit from President Aquino. He is tackling corruption in his country in a way that we have not seen in over a generation," he added.
"This is one of the best governments we’ve seen in decades. We want to support that government. And we are deeply engaged in that process going forward," he said.
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