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Hillary to hold talks with Noy on US support

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greets US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. upon arrival at the NAIA yesterday. Jonjon Vicencio

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to announce new support for the Philippines and flood-hit Thailand as she shores up ties with key US allies, officials said Tuesday.

After her Manila visit, Clinton will head later this week to Thailand, part of a renewed US focus on Asia. President Barack Obama is traveling separately to Australia, another longtime ally in the region.

Officials accompanying Clinton, whose plane made a brief refueling stop in the US territory of Guam, said she would hold talks today with President Aquino and tour a warship at a time of high tension between Manila and Beijing over disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.

The US recently provided the Philippines with a warship and Clinton will discuss offering a second one, the officials said.

They said Clinton will also look for ways to step up cooperation at sea. Recent US military efforts with its former colony have focused on fighting Islamic militants in Mindanao.

“We are now in the process of diversifying and changing the nature of our engagement. We will continue those efforts in the south, but we are focusing more on maritime capabilities,” a senior State Department official said on condition of anonymity.

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A Defense department official said the US was not seeking to stir up tensions in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, where Beijing is locked in myriad disputes with countries including the Philippines and Vietnam.

The Philippines has “what they feel are legitimate claims in the South China Sea and they are being contested by other countries,” the defense official said.

“We’re very sensitive to making sure that this does not in any way alarm or provoke anybody else,” he said.

But relations between the US and China have been uneasy, with Obama pressing President Hu Jintao during a weekend summit on a range of issues from intellectual property rights to the exchange rate level of the Chinese yuan.

Obama welcomed leaders from 20 other Pacific Rim economies to the weekend summit in his native Hawaii where he built momentum for an emerging free trade agreement that would span the Pacific – but does not include China.

Clinton and Obama have vowed to put a new focus on the Asia-Pacific, saying that the US wants to help build the emerging institutions of the fast-growing region that is vital both for the US economy and security.

In a speech last week, Clinton said that the US was “updating” relationships with its five treaty-bound regional allies – the Philippines, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Thailand.

“These five alliances are the fulcrum for our efforts in the Asia-Pacific,” Clinton said at the East-West Center in Honolulu.

“They leverage our regional presence and enhance our regional leadership at a time of evolving security challenges,” she said.

Admiral Robert Willard, head of the US Pacific Command, also stressed that the five treaty alliances “form in many ways the basis for security in the region.”

“One of our endeavors is to improve those alliances and strengthen those alliances along the way,” Willard told reporters in Honolulu.

The Philippines has accused the Chinese military of aggressive acts in Philippine-claimed areas, including firing on Filipino fishermen, laying buoys and harassing an oil exploration vessel.

Zenia Rodriguez, head of the political science office at the University of Santo Tomas, said that Clinton’s trip was timely in light of the tensions in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, including over the Spratly Islands.

“When you face China in the Spratlys, the most the Philippines can do is lean towards a stronger nation, which in our case is the US,” Rodriguez said.

“Her visit underlines the enduring alliance and responsive strategic partnership between the Philippines and US and is the latest concrete manifestation of US action and reengagement in the most dynamic region in the world – the Asia Pacific,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said for his part.

“The strategic partnership between the two countries also focuses on seizing opportunities for their mutual objective of growing their economies which is manifested in their cooperation under the Partnership for Growth,” he added.


Protests by militants greeted Clinton’s Manila visit which was also in observance of the 60th anniversary of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

“The MDT continues to be invoked to justify US intervention in our country. There are no benefits from this. In the last 40 years, the MDT was used to justify US military bases in the Philippines, as well as Philippine involvement in US conflicts abroad. To this day, the MDT is being wrongly used to justify the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) even if the MDT predates the VFA by 48 years,” said Renato Reyes, secretary- general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).

“The US government wants us to be content with receiving US military junk. The MDT has not modernized our armed forces. If anything, the MDT and similar military agreements have made us dependent on the US,” Reyes said.

“They have made us weak and unable to stand on our own,” he added.

“How can we expect fair and equal treatment from the US, especially after what we learned from Wikileaks? In 2009, Secretary Clinton herself ordered US diplomats to spy on UN officials and other UN representatives, even ordering the gathering of biometric and IT-related information,” he said.

“As revealed in Wikileaks, the US embassy in the Philippines undermined Philippine sovereignty on many issues. That’s the kind foreign policy that the US carries out even with its so-called ‘allies’.”

Bayan said the VFA should also be scrapped as it has been used to justify not just brief visits but extended or even permanent stationing of US troops in the Philippines.

“The Aquino government should stand for sovereignty and do away with mendicancy in its foreign relations,” Reyes said.

“January 2012 will mark 10 years of US troops’ permanent presence in Mindanao. While US troops in Iraq are set to leave at the end of 2011, US troops in Mindanao appear to be staying indefinitely. There is no known timetable or duration for their presence. Secretary Clinton’s visit will likely reinforce this illegal arrangement,” Reyes said.

Bayan said that after more than a year in office, the Aquino administration has yet to make good its promise to make public the results of its review of the VFA.

The Senate has passed a resolution calling for the renegotiation or termination of the VFA because of some questionable provisions.

Labor groups also protested Clinton’s visit and demanded the abrogation of the MDT.           

“This treaty is based on the lie that the US is a real friend of the Philippines. It is the US, not the Philippines, which benefits the most from it. The Aquino government, which is so proud of welcoming Clinton, is far from scrapping this treaty and ending US supremacy over the country,” Kilusang Mayo Uno vice chairman Lito Ustarez said.

He added that Clinton’s visit is proof of the Aquino administration’s commitment to preserve or even strengthen US hold over the country.

“This has meant nonstop violations of our country’s sovereignty so we urge the Filipino workers and people to be critical of and fight US domination of our country. It is responsible not only for the dragging of the country into US-sponsored wars but for the country’s poverty,” he said.

Anakpawis executive vice president Joel Maglunsod, for his part, said the MDT and the VFA have allowed the US to trample on the country’s sovereignty.

The group also criticized US President Obama’s Partnership for Growth initiative, saying it would further open the Philippine economy to US control.

“We have been opening up our economy for almost a century and what has it caused us? Nothing but a backward economy, destroyed hopes for national industrialization and a spectacularly high poverty rate,” Maglunsod said.

Measly US aid

For Sen. Francis Pangilinan, the Philippines has not received much from the US despite its long years of military cooperation with the superpower.  

“After 60 years of cooperation with the United States, and in 10 years of having implemented the Visiting Forces Agreement despite its lopsidedness, the Philippines has received only $507 million in military assistance from 2001 to 2011,” Pangilinan said. “Other countries have received far more for far less cooperation,” he said citing Pakistan.

The senator said Pakistan, based on reports, received close to $20 billion in US aid from 2002 to 2010 despite the failure of its officials to track down Osama bin Laden. American commandos eventually killed bin Laden in a raid in Pakistan.

“The Philippines has the right to demand more from the United States, given its full cooperation on military matters, unlike other countries that have harbored terrorists yet continue to receive billions in aid each year. Kung tutuusin, barya lang ang nakukuha natin sa Amerika, pero sobra-sobra ang binibigay natin sa kanila (In fact, we’re getting only loose change from America, but we’re giving them a lot),” Pangilinan said.

“We get bread crumbs relative to what their other allies and security partners have received, and our military is far from modernized,” Pangilinan added.

“Luging-lugi tayo sa VFA (We’re the losers in VFA). This is why we have long been clamoring for its abrogation and review,” Pangilinan added.

“We have been keeping our end of the bargain yet much is left to be desired from their end. A decade has passed and the times and circumstances have changed. The world is a different place. We must review and renegotiate the provisions of the VFA to better suit the needs of the times,” he said. – Mayen Jaymalin, Rhodina Villanueva, Christina Mendez, Pia Lee-Brago

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