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Speaker seeks expanded Balikatan, appeals for increased US aid

Delon Porcalla - The Philippine Star
Speaker seeks expanded Balikatan, appeals for increased US aid
Speaker Martin Romualdez meets with Rep. Gary Palmer of Alabama at Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, wherein they discussed nuclear energy cooperation and bilateral trade relations.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — Speaker Martin Romualdez asked his lawmaker-counterparts in US Congress for an expansion of joint military exercises in the Philippines and also sought an increased US foreign military financing.

“These exercises have shown their significant importance in boosting our tactical and operational prowess. With this program, we can improve stability, security and peace in the Asia-Pacific region and better safeguard our nation,” the leader of the House of Representatives said.

He was accompanied by several House leaders, along with Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez, when he met with American lawmakers, among them Senators William Francis Hagerty of Tennessee, Christopher Van Hollen of Maryland and Rep. Gary Palmer of Alabama.

Romualdez underscored the importance of expanded multilateral joint military exercises in Manila, not only to improve its defense strategies but also to foster stronger ties with other allies, ensuring peace and stability in the region.

He cited the effectiveness of the Balikatan exercises with the US and related activities with other regional allies.

“These exercises have shown their significant importance in boosting our tactical and operational prowess. With this program, we can improve stability, security and peace in the Asia-Pacific region and better safeguard our nation,” Speaker Romualdez said.

The Philippine delegation included senior deputy speaker Aurelio Gonzales Jr., deputy speaker David Suarez, majority leader Manuel Jose Dalipe, Agusan del Norte Rep. Jose Aquino II, House secretary general Reginald Velasco and other House officials and Philippine embassy officers.

The Speaker also welcomed the Philippines’ Enhanced Resilience Act of 2024 (PERA Act) following his series of meetings with US lawmakers. He met US legislators to promote national defense and regional security cooperation.

Romualdez has proposed increasing US foreign military financing to the Philippines from $40 million.

“Given the strength of our alliance, the complexity of our evolving challenges and our expanding engagements, I hope you will agree that the FMF also needs an increase,” Romualdez said.

He also expressed his “deep gratitude” to Hagerty, a Republican, and Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, a Democrat, for introducing in the US Senate the PERA of 2024, a bill that seeks $500 million a year in FMF for the Philippines for 2025 through 2029, or a total of $2.5 billion for five years.

The bipartisan measure was introduced on April 10, a day before the trilateral summit in Washington of US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and President Marcos.

In filing the proposed law, Hagerty said the US and the Philippines should deepen further cooperation and raise the decades-long alliance to even greater heights.

For his part, Kaine said it is essential that the people of the Philippines have the resources and support they need in the face of ongoing challenges in the West Philippine Sea.

The US FMF program provides grants for acquiring US defense equipment, services and training. It aims to promote US national security interests by contributing to regional and global stability, strengthening military support for democratically-elected governments and containing transnational threats, including terrorism and trafficking in narcotics, weapons and persons.

Also among the topics discussed by the Speaker was the status of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the US, including the announcement of four additional EDCA Agreed Locations, which brought the total to nine.

These are identified portions of the facilities and areas within Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija; Basa Air Base, Pampanga; Antonio Bautista Air Base, Palawan; Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base, Cebu; Lumbia Airfield, Cagayan De Oro; Naval Base Camilo Osias, Santa Ana, Cagayan; Camp Melchor Dela Cruz, Gamu, Isabela; Cagayan North International Airport, Lal-lo, Cagayan and Balabac Island, Palawan.

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MARTIN ROMUALDEZ

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