US senators back PH sea defense
Expressing “strong affinity” with the Philippines, a group of visiting United States senators, led by former Republican Party presidential candidate John McCain, has vowed to help the country improve its maritime security, especially in the West Philippine Sea (or South China Sea).
During a meeting with Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario on Tuesday at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Pasay City, the US congressional delegation also promised to help facilitate the Philippine request for a third weather high endurance cutter (WHEC) from Washington.
In a statement, the DFA quoted McCain as saying it would be “unreasonable not to give” the vessel to the Philippines.
The Philippines last year acquired its first Whec from the US, a decommissioned 378-foot Hamilton-class cutter which the Philippines has since renamed the BRP Gregorio del Pilar and classified as a surface combatant ship or a warship.
Freedom of navigation
DFA officials said a request for a second Whec is in the process of approval.
Noting the “long and friendly relationship” between the two allies, McCain also told his hosts that the best way to avoid confrontation with China in the West Philippine Sea is to maintain freedom of navigation in the disputed waters.
Aside from McCain, other senators in the delegation included Senators Joseph Lieberman (Connecticut), Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island) and Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire).
For his part, Del Rosario cited the passage in late June of US Senate Resolution 217, which called for a peaceful and multilateral resolution of maritime territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.
He also thanked McCain for pushing for US military support to the Philippines as a treaty ally.
At the same time, Del Rosario requested Washington’s assistance on the government’s request for another WHEC, which the Philippines plans to deploy in the West Philippine Sea.
The vessel will “enable the Philippines attain a credible defense posture and enhance maritime domain awareness,” Del Rosario noted.
Aside from the Philippines, the McCain group is also visiting Vietnam and Burma (Myanmar).
Last weekend, the US Embassy in Manila announced that the McCain-led delegation would be in the country from Jan. 16 to 18 to “meet with government leaders, discuss cooperation and reaffirm the alliance” between the two allies.
US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. had told Palace reporters the senators “would like to have the opportunity to meet the President and his Cabinet and their counterparts.”
On June 21, 2011, Del Rosario met with McCain in Washington, where the senator called on the US to expand military and political support to Southeast Asian nations that stand up against China in the West Philippine Sea.
McCain said the United States should help Asean members like the Philippines develop and deploy an early warning system and coastal vessels in the disputed waters.
The former Navy captain said Washington should also turn to diplomacy to help Asean members sort out their own disputes and “establish a more unified front.”
McCain, who lost the 2008 presidential race to President Barack Obama, welcomed the Obama administration’s defense of freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea but said it should go further.
He said the US should let other countries know “which claims the US accepts, which ones we do not, and what actions we are prepared to support,” including defending the Philippines in the event of an armed conflict in the disputed waters.
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