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MANILA - UPDATE 3:56 PM - The Philippines and the United States on Monday affirmed a common direction to build up a "minimum credible defense" for the Philippines, amidst rising tensions with China over disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
President Benigno Aquino III and US Pacific Command head Admiral Samuel Locklear III met on Monday, officially to “reaffirm the long standing partnership between the United States and the Philippines," presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
More specifically, Lacierda added, "Admiral Locklear reiterated the commitment of the US to help the Philippines establish a minimum credible defense posture."
Meets with AFP top brass
After meeting President Aquino and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Locklear later paid a courtesy call on AFP chief of staff Gen. Jessie Dellosa at Camp Aguinaldo Monday afternoon. Locklear is on a three-day visit to the Philippines.
Dellosa said Locklear’s visit signifies the strengthening of the close ties between the armed forces of the Philippines and United States.
“We are truly honored by Admiral Locklear’s visit, as it reaffirms the strong alliance and the good relations between our armed forces.
Coming after our bilateral meeting in Singapore last month, this visit further strengthens our bond and shared history, especially in the light of current regional developments in the Asia-Pacific, and other areas of engagement between our two militaries,” Dellosa said.
Locklear will head to Camp General Basilio Navarro in Zamboanga on Tuesday to visit the troops from the US Armed Forces Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P).
The JSOTF-P works together with the AFP to fight terrorism and deliver humanitarian assistance in Mindanao. These American forces are on a "strictly non-combat role" and will only advise and assist the AFP, share information, and conduct joint civil military undertaking in support of the peace and development activities of the government, officials said.
Details to be firmed up with DFA chief
In the earlier Palace meeting, there was no specific discussion on the West Philippine Sea, Aquino’s spokesman said, but details on what the President and Locklear took up were expected to be firmed up during Locklear's meeting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario later in the afternoon.
Locklear's visit came days after the unprecedented non-issuance of a joint communique by the recently concluded Foreign Ministers' Meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Phnom Penh.
Cambodia, current chairperson of ASEAN and an ally of Beijing, blocked the proposal of the Philippines to have the regional organization say something about China and growing tensions between it, Vietnam, and the Philippines, particularly with respected to disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea.
The non-issuance of a joint communique was a first in ASEAN’s 45 years of existence.
China claims the entire West Philippine Sea, which it calls the South China Sea, including Panatag Shoal and Recto Bank, which are well within the country's 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.