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Top level meet delayed so DND brass can finish ‘homework’

WASHINGTON D.C. – The scheduled 2×2 ministerial meeting in Washington DC was pushed back from March to April to reportedly give Philippine defense officials more time to finish drawing up new plans even as the United States showed eagerness to ramp up its forces there as early as possible.

The 2×2 ministerial meeting will gather US State Secretary Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta; and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

Navy gets US Dallas class warship

Navy gets US Dallas class warship

The US conveyed its readiness to expand military forces in the Philippines during the 2nd Bilateral Strategic Dialogue here last month. The move is part of a shift in America’s security strategy that emphasizes the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions.

Philippine officials are reportedly pressed to update or come up with new plans to enable the increased US military presence in the country, short of reopening their old bases. The US closed down its bases in Clark and Subic two decades ago after the Philippine Senate voted to close them down, following the 1986 Constitution that bans permanent foreign military forces.

As longstanding treaty allies, the US and Philippines conducts yearly joint training exercises. The largest of them are the “Balikatan” (translates roughly in the vernacular as “shoulder to shoulder”) and the amphibious Cooperation Afloat Readiness Training or CARAT.

The US plans to rotate as many as 4,000 Marines in the region, including the Philippines according to a report from the Pacific Daily News. Meanwhile, the US Special Operations Command has announced plans to beef up its own forces, including the estimated 600 troops in Mindanao to help the Philippine military combat the al-Qaeda-affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

Meanwhile, Congress gave its nod to the transfer of a 2nd Hamilton-class Coast Guard cutter, the “Dallas” to the Philippine Navy later this year. The first ship delivered last year was re-christened the “Gregorio del Pilar” and now serves as the Philippine Navy flagship.

It helps patrol the Spratly Islands.

The process is time consuming, officials explained, because anything that is delivered through diplomatic channels has to be run over to Camp Aguinaldo, partly because President Aquino has done away with the security Cabinet cluster in Malacanang.

The US and Philippines have Mutual Defense Treaty and an existing Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) regulates the movement and activities of US military forces in the Philippines. (rjj)

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