‘PH-US military ties remain strong’


AFP receives new counterterrorism weapons

The military relationship between the Philippines and the United States remains strong despite Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s seemingly distant approach to the U.S. government, officials from both countries affirmed.

Head of U.S. Pacific Command Admiral Harry Harris and Philippine Undersecretary for Defense Policy Ricardo David both made the assurance during the Southeast Asian Young Leaders’ Programme on Sunday, June 4 in Singapore.

“I believe that we are in a very good place with regard to military to military activities in the Philippines,” Harris said.

Backing up Harris’ statement, David added: “As far as the Philippines is concerned, I think we have good relations with the United States. The Balikatan just concluded. It will continue because this is a part of our Philippine alliance with the US. We have a Mutual Defense Treaty.”

Duterte, who assumed office in June last year, had announced that the Philippines would shift closer toward China and Russia as part of his administration’s independent foreign policy.

David, however, assured that the Duterte administration’s building of closer ties with other countries like China and Russia doesn’t mean that the Philippines would distance itself away from the U.S., its decades-long ally.

“The president, I believe, wants to have an independent foreign policy, meaning we can be open to China, we can be open to Russia. He wants to have cooperation also with those two countries,” he said.

Harris also noted that Philippine and U.S. forces have been working together against terrorist threats, which exhibits the importance of the two countries’ military relationship.

“We are involved in activities in Mindanao to help the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) take the fight to IS in the Philippines. I think that is a recognition of how important our relationship with the Philippines is,” Harris said.

The two officials made the statement amid the ongoing clashes between the Philippine government forces and the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.

The Maute group laid siege of Marawi City on May 23 in the middle of a government operation to capture Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon. Hours later, the confrontation prompted Duterte to declare martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the entire Mindanao.

On Sunday, June 5, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella announced on a state-run radio that around 188 people have been killed in connection with the Marawi crisis.

“As of 11 p.m., June 3, 2017 in Marawi, there have been 30 civilians that have been killed by local terrorist groups, and those rescued are 1,271. Government casualties or those killed in action are 38,” Abella said. “Our troops have killed 120 from the terrorist ranks, and that has remained unchanged.”

Counterterror weapons

On Monday, June 5, the Philippine Marines received new counterterrorism weapons from the U.S. government under its U.S. Counterterrorism Train and Equip program.

Washington has donated new firearms, among of which include 300 M4 carbines, 200 Glock 21 pistols, four M134D Gatling-style machine guns and 100 M203 grenade launchers.

“This equipment will enhance the [Philippine Marines’] counterterrorism capabilities, and help protect [troops] actively engaged in counterterrorism operations in the southern Philippines,” the U.S. embassy said in a statement.

Since 2007, the embassy said the Joint United States Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) has delivered and programmed P7.3 billion worth of weaponry to the Philippine military as part of enhancing the latter’s counterterrorism capabilities.

It added that the U.S. government has allocated P15 billion of grant funding to provide the AFP with equipment, including corresponding upgrades and training, over the last five years.

Additionally, the Philippine government has procured small arms, watercraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and personal protective equipment under the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.

According to Marines Chief Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat, some of the donated weapons will be used by the military in its operations in Marawi.

“We will give this to our troops. Our priority is in Marawi,” Salamat told reporters after the turn-over ceremony at the Marine headquarters in Taguig City.

Last week, Duterte said he will no longer accept second-hand weapons for the Philippine military.

“I do not want those given by the Americans. During my time, I will not have second-hand ships. It has to be brand new,” Duterte told soldiers at a military base in Mindanao last Friday, June 2.

He added that he is willing to “spend double the money” as long as the weapons for Filipino troopers were new. (AJPress)

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