Gibo: RP-US security alliance stronger

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — The future of the Philippine-U.S. defense cooperation and security alliance looks stronger following talks yesterday between visiting Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr. and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon.

The Philippine defense chief — who is seeking the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD’s nomination for president in next year’s election — said he and Secretary Gates reached an agreement to bring the RP-U.S. defense engagement and cooperation to a high gear.

Teodoro emerged from the meeting — the high point of his five-day visit to the U.S. capital — assured by Gates of U.S. commitment to support efforts by the Department of Defense and Armed Forces of the Philippines to crush terrorists undermining the peace and stability of the country.

Following up on their meeting in Manila last June, Teodoro and Gates acknowledged the clear and present danger posed by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)-Jemayah Islamiyah (JI) and MILF rogue elements in Southern Mindanao.

However, Teodoro emphasized that the Philippine government has significantly weakened the ASG following recent major clashes with the terrorist group in Southern Philippines that resulted in the capture by the AFP forces of a major ASG training camp.

The two officials were also pleased on the progress of the security cooperation that has enhanced the Mutual Defense Treaty.

During their talk, they also agreed to explore mutual strategic security interests particularly in areas that are non-traditional security threats such as humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR), climate change, drug trafficking, and maritime security.

They also discussed the U.S. government’s support to improve the capabilities of the Philippine defense establishment, particularly the AFP. Teodoro pointed out the need to focus efforts on force build up for internal security operations. He added that there is a need to enhance the Navy’s Coast Watch South (CWS), in partnership with the U.S. and other countries, in order to deny use of the Sulu and Celebes Seas by non-traditional maritime threats for illegal activities.

He underscored the significance of the U.S. assistance in government’s infrastructure projects such as construction of school facilities, water system, and farm-to-market roads in Mindanao areas prone to conflict. These projects, he said, have greatly improved the quality of lives of the people in Mindanao.

Gates lauded Teodoro especially for his efforts to institutionalize reforms in the defense department and in the Armed Forces of the Philippines through the Philippine Defense Reform Program (PDR).

Reforms will take root in the organization, Teodoro assured the U.S. defense chief, while thanking him for Washington’s financial assistance and technical support to the PDR.

Gates, on the other hand, praised Teodoro for the department’s successful hosting of the first ASEAN Regional Forum-Voluntary Disaster Response (ARF-VDR) event last May, which was a humanitarian assistance exercise held in Clark Airbase and Manila, and participated in by 26 countries.

He underscored the need to sustain the conduct of such activity as a means of improving multilateral coordination and interoperability, most particularly in addressing HADR situations.

Concurring with Gates, Teodoro said the DND/AFP will host SAGIP next year, which is also a multilateral exercise for HADR.