WASHINGTON, DC—United States lawmakers have backed efforts by the Obama administration to forge a stronger relationship with the Philippines and said Congress will soon approve the transfer of a second ship to help the ally’s navy defend its waters.
Republican Representative Ed Royce told a House of Representatives foreign affairs subcommittee hearing on US-Philippine relations that the congressional review process for transferring the Coast Guard Cutter Dallas will be finished this week, and the ship should soon be on its way to the Philippines.
Another aging US cutter, the Hamilton, was transferred to the Philippines last May, since renamed the BRP Gregorio del Pilar.
The US has sought to boost the Philippines’ ability to maintain its maritime security because of its ally’s concern over assertive Chinese behavior in disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea (or the South China Sea).
While the United States has no territorial claims in the region, the top US diplomat for East Asia, Kurt Campbell, reiterated that the US has a national interest in such claims’ peaceful resolution and the freedom of navigation in seas that carry about a half the total tonnage of world trade.
Campbell said the US is considering a “reasonable” Philippine request also to transfer gear stripped from the Hamilton before it was handed over.
The US took the sensors from the ship before it was decommissioned, as well as its communications and electronics equipment, and close-in weapons system, which is used to detect and destroy at short range incoming antiship missiles and enemy aircraft.
The ship, commissioned in 1967, was transferred under a program that offers “excess defense articles” to foreign partners in support of US national security and foreign policy objectives.
Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Lavoy said the Hamilton had completed on Monday its first patrol in the vicinity of the Spratly group of islands.
Noncommital of F-16s
Asked about possible Philippine acquisition of F-16 fighter jets, Lavoy was noncommital. He said the US was considering a range of military capabilities requested by the Philippines, and “affordability and sustainability” would be critical in evaluating them.
Campbell, who stressed the importance of stronger economic ties, spoke in gushing terms about the bilateral relationship with the Philippines, one of five US treaty allies in Asia.
“There’s no country in Asia that’s more welcoming to the United States, more supportive of a stronger relationship and more on our side, rooting for us every step of the way,” he said.
He described President Benigno Aquino III as a person of “rare integrity” and lauded his efforts to fight corruption.
The two Republican lawmakers who spoke at the hearing supported administration efforts to strengthen ties. Royce said the Philippines had been largely ignored in US foreign policy in recent years, but that was starting to change.
Representative Dana Rohrabacher, an arch critic of China, praised the joint US-Philippine efforts to fight Islamic militants in the southern Philippines. For the past decade, hundreds of US forces have helped equip and train Filipino forces there.
Rohrabacher described an air strike last week that killed a leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group, for which the US shared intelligence, as a victory against radical Islam.
“We need to stand as aggressively and as solidly with the Philippine government in confronting an aggressive, arrogant, expansionist China as we have in standing against radical Islam,” he said.
The US will soon give a second Coast Guard cutter to the Philippines as part of efforts to boost the ally’s military amid tensions at sea with China, officials said Wednesday.
The US last year transferred its Hamilton cutter to the Philippines, which made it the flagship of its notoriously dilapidated navy and recently sent it on a mission to the disputed Spratly islands.
Lawmakers will this week conclude formalities to send to the Philippines, a former US colony another cutter, the Dallas, Representative Ed Royce and senior Pentagon official Peter Lavoy told a congressional hearing.
“It should soon be on its way to Manila,” said Royce, a Republican from southern California whose district has a significant Filipino American community.
“The US and the Philippines want peace and stability in this region, which is key to the global economy,” Royce said as he chaired the hearing of a House foreign affairs subcommittee.
The Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries have accused China of bellicose behavior over disputes in the South China Sea. Despite historical sensitivities about US troops, the Philippines has said it would welcome further rotations by US forces on its soil and more joint exercises. AP and AFP