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Philippines seeks US help to monitor developments in West Philippine Sea

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines has sought help from the United States to monitor “real-time” developments in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea, providing surveillance and reconnaissance, a military spokesman said yesterday, amid China’s rapid expansion in the area.

Col. Restituto Padilla said the defense ministry had asked US Pacific Command chief Admiral Harry Harris to provide air cover for a Philippine civilian ship that regularly delivers supplies to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

“We want the US military to watch over our ships, which China attempts to block every time we rotate troops and bring supplies to a ship that ran aground on Ayungin Shoal,” Padilla said.

Harris was in Palawan yesterday to see first-hand the situation in the area, near where China has built artificial islands.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.

Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez, chief of the Armed Forces Western Command based in Palawan, told journalists the US commander promised to help its oldest ally in the Asia-Pacific, but would also prevent conflict from erupting.

“They will be rooting for regional peace and stability. That’s it. They do not want conflict,” Lopez said. “They will help in whatever way.” Officials did not give specifics on the meeting, merely reiterating the oft-repeated lines about defense cooperation between the Philippines and the US.

“The trip of Admiral Harris to the Western Command was dubbed by the chief of staff as a sort of area familiarization for the new commander of the Pacific Command,” Padilla said. 

“Adm. Harris wanted to be apprised of the situation on the ground and follow on a previous meeting with Adm. Alex Lopez, commander of WESCOM, who he met earlier in Singapore during the Shangri-La Dialogue,” he added.

Padilla said Armed Forces chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri viewed the visit as “a great opportunity to further enhance a long-lasting and enduring alliance.”

“It was also in furtherance of a collective effort at ensuring regional security and stability as well as levelling of expectations,” he added.

Lopez said Harris’ visit paved way to a “meeting of minds that was aimed at having a common appreciation of the situation on the ground.”

Asked to confirm reports that the US has already agreed to help the Philippines deliver supplies to troops securing the West Philippine Sea, Lopez said: “We did not tackle that.”

“It was just about generalities and area familiarization,” he added.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, for its part, said Harris has voiced his country’s commitment to its security arrangement with the Philippines.

Harris made the commitment during a meeting with DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario at Malacañang last Wednesday.

The DFA said Del Rosario and Harris exchanged views on how to further strengthen the alliance between the Philippines and the US.

They also discussed the current regional security environment, and agreed on the need to jointly protect freedom of the seas and oppose any unilateral actions by any country aimed at changing the status quo in the region.

Harris commanded the US Pacific Fleet from 2013 to May 2015.

The AFP said on Wednesday the US intends to increase its military and humanitarian drills in the Asia-Pacific region as part of a strategy to counter China’s expansion in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea.

Harries discussed key aspects of the Pentagon’s freshly drafted Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and AFP chief Iriberri at Camp Aguinaldo. – With Pia Lee Brago

ACIRC

ADMIRAL HARRIS

ADMIRAL HARRY HARRIS

ALEX LOPEZ

CHINA

HARRIS

LOPEZ

PACIFIC COMMAND

PADILLA

SOUTH CHINA SEA AND WEST PHILIPPINE SEA

WEST PHILIPPINE SEA

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