WASHINGTON D.C.—The Philippines is asking for more US military hardware and says it is in Washington’s strategic interest to help.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Wednesday the Philippines is submitting a list requesting patrol vessels and aircraft, radar systems and coast watch stations.
His comments come after high-level talks in Washington this week, and amid a continuing standoff between the Philippines and China at a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.
Last year, the US transferred an aging cutter ship that is now a flagship vessel of the Philippine navy, and a second cutter is due to be handed over this year. But the Southeast Asian island nation’s navy remains underequipped and dwarfed by China’s.
Del Rosario told the Heritage Foundation think tank it was in other nations’ interest to support the Philippines in standing up for freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and peaceful settlement of disputes.
“What’s happening is a manifestation of a larger threat,” he said. “We are doing this alone but we really should not be doing this alone. I think other countries should be concerned for their own interest.”
He said Beijing had rejected a Philippine invitation for international arbitration over the sovereignty of the Scarborough Shoal, where the standoff began April 10 after the Philippine navy accused Chinese boats of fishing illegally. The Philippines says the shoal lies within its offshore exclusive economic zone.
China submitted a map to the UN in 2009 claiming virtually the entire South China Sea, but has not clarified the exact extent of its claims to the 200 islands, coral outcrops and banks spread over the potentially resource rich waters. Other claimants are Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.
Del Rosario said the Philippines would continue political, legal and diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute, but indicated that its efforts to build a “minimum credible defense” would strengthen its diplomatic hand.
“The United States needs a stronger ally in the region who will be able to take on a bigger share of guaranteeing the stability of that region. It’s therefore in the strategic interest of the US to invest in the development of the Philippines’ defense and military capability,” del Rosario said.
After this week’s talks between their top diplomats and defense officials, US reaffirmed its commitment to its mutual defense treaty with the Philippines, but said it does not take sides in territorial disputes in the South China Sea. However, Washington reiterated it has a national interest in the peaceful resolution of the disputes in a region crucial to global trade.
Del Rosario called for the US to devote more of its foreign military financing to the Philippines, and complained that some funding has been withheld by Congress since 2008 over human rights concerns which he claimed Manila had taken steps to address. Rights groups say extra-judicial killings have decreased but there has been no progress on prosecutions of suspects.
The Philippine Embassy said in a press release Tuesday, the US agreed this week to provide more “real-time information” to the Philippines on what is happening in its maritime territory. The US also said it would double its initial allocation of foreign military financing to the Philippines to US $30 million for the fiscal year that ends in September, according to the release.