In Washington, US envoy stresses support for an ally
Stressing that “no one should doubt the United States’ commitment to the Philippines,” US Ambassador to Manila Harry Thomas Jr. reaffirmed Washington’s pledge to help enhance the country’s security capability.
Speaking before the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, Thomas on Friday said the US was “committed as an ally, as well as a friend of the Philippines, to provide our support.”
“Our Mutual Defense Treaty both reflects and enhances our close ties, and I expect both countries would continue to work together to protect and advance our shared security interests,” he said.
Thomas observed that “there has been a lot of speculation about the way the US might react in the event of some sort of conflict between China and the Philippines. Please allow me to leave this sort of speculation to others, because I have found it difficult and at times counterproductive to grapple with hypothetical scenarios.”
Concerns are internal
He pointed out that “the Philippines’ security concerns have been primarily internal, not external.”
“The country continues to struggle with insurgency and terrorism, but we have seen meaningful progress. Just last week, President Aquino met with leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to try and add new energy to that peace track, a promising initiative,” he said.
On the other hand, Thomas said, “the outlook for talks with the New People’s Army is less clear.”
“Compared to the MILF peace process, the talks with the communists have not been as productive. Nevertheless, the Aquino administration has shown a desire to bring about a negotiated end to the insurgency. And although the US government continues to designate the NPA as a terrorist organization, we do hope the Philippine government can succeed in resolving this conflict.”
Ardent fight vs terrorism
Thomas said, however, that “there are some organizations that are truly incapable of negotiations.”
“In the Philippines, these include the. Philippine security forces have ardently kept up their fight against these terrorists. They regularly confront the ASG, and Philippine soldiers and police officers have been killed or wounded in these engagements. It is a sacrifice we should all bear in mind.”
According to Thomas, the US “has continued to play a very successful role in central Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago.”
“At the invitation of the government, we are supporting the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ counter-terrorism effort with advice and assistance. I should emphasize that US forces do not and will not engage in combat operations in the Philippines,” he said.
Thomas explained that “our traditional military-to-military cooperation allows our respective soldiers to study together and work together effectively. This is most visible during disaster response when the very able AFP allows US forces to be partners in rescue support. But it is also important in the world of global peacekeeping where the Philippines is a respected and appreciated troop contributor.”
Expressing concern over extrajudicial killings in the country, he reported that “the pace of killings has declined,” but “progress toward convicting culprits remains slow.”
Not exactly ‘CSI’
Thomas expressed “very much hope for greater accountability,” as he also expressed confidence that “top Philippine policymakers share this hope.”
“With over $10 million in our law enforcement budget for this year, we are continuing to work with the Philippine National Police so its service to citizens becomes even more exemplary. Our cooperation with prosecutors helps them build stronger cases so trials could be more efficient. And while it’s not exactly (the popular American TV show) “CSI”, we are able to provide some forensic equipment and training to help police identify criminals scientifically,” he said.
Achieving economic growth
Thomas also disclosed that the Philippines was “one of four countries designated by the White House as a ‘Partnership for Growth’ country.”
“The goal of this effort is to support programs in the Philippines that tackle constraints that keep the country from achieving broad-based economic growth. We and the Philippine government have agreed to focus on two of these constraints: Weak governance and constrained fiscal space,” he said.
According to Thomas, “good governance is essential for achieving inclusive economic growth that would boost employment prospects for Filipinos. The Philippine Development Plan for 2011 through 2016 aims to tackle this issue head on. The Partnership for Growth will support the implementation of key elements of this plan.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.