PH: We’ll Take A Stand, With Or Without US

Undated handout photo released by the Kayalaan Municipal office in 2011 shows Kalayaan island in the Spratlys, a chain of islets in the South China Sea. The Philippines has deployed 800 more Marines and opened a new headquarters to guard its interests in the disputed Spratly islands, which China also claims, a senior military official said Sunday

MANILA, Philippines --- With or without the Americans, the Philippines will take a stand on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) row.

This fact was made clear by the Philippine government when its military officials met with their United States counterparts during their last Mutual Defense Board (MDB) meeting held in Honolulu, Hawaii.

This developed as United Kingdom Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire said the Philippines should help calm down some of the rhetoric with regards to the West Philippine Sea dispute.

"As soon as we sat down, we asked them (US military officials) if we can just talk freely and that's what happened," Philippine Navy Flag Officer in Command Alexander Pama told Manila Bulletin in an interview as he explained that prior to the MDB dialogue he told then Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Eduardo Oban Jr. "to do away with the agenda of the meeting" and be frank with their counterparts. "We told them 'lets not talk about the wish list. We are not looking at Santa Claus. This is where we are coming from and we just want to know if you are onboard'."

According to Pama, they told the US delegates that if they will not be "onboard" with the Philippines, "we will have to do it alone, because, in the first place, its ours."

"The question there is, "how will they look in the international community if you are not a reliable partner?" he emphasized.

Pama further stressed that "whether we like it or not, the issues on sovereignty and the challenges will remain there."

"That (West Philippine Sea) is ours," he said, "We just want to get out of (that) room (where the meeting took place) having the mutual feeling that we are both reliable partners."

Subsequently, the US government agreed to the Philippine military's "wish list." Pama said, "because those are the things that we need for us to be a reliable partner in whatever challenges that will exist."

"But of course, they have to go back to their usual party line that they don't have any position non territorial disputes," he pointed out. "But what is important there is our military to military relationship."

If the Philippines request was turned down, Pama said they can "agree to disagree without being disagreeable but at the very least we understand each other."

"You have your interest we have our interest we have a common interest, we work together well and good, that's what we told them (their US counterparts)," he said. "Beyond that we are still friends."

"When we leave the table we can shout with each other after that there's nothing personal, these are just issues," Pama added. "With other countries, we have to balance. That's where the diplomatic side should come in."

And with the signing this week of Republic Act No. 10349 that initially earmarks P75 billion to boost the capability upgrade program of the military for the first five years, Pama is optimistic that by 2020 "we shall be a strong and credible navy that this maritime nation can be proud of."

"We are 7,107 islands and with the longest shoreline, it's only fitting that we have a strong and credible navy," Pama remarked.

US Military personnel are currently in the Philippines to attend a planning conference for Balikatan 13 -the largest annual US-Philippines military exercise, which will focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

However, they were redirected to assist with the response efforts in the aftermath of typhoon "Pablo."

In addition, the US military is providing air transport and other assistance in coordination with the Armed Forces of the Philippines through the US Department of Defense Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) Program to support the relief effort led by the Philippines government.

Also, US Marine Forces Pacific Command has sent personnel and supplies to transport loads of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief supplies via C-130 planes.

In a televised interview, Swire stated that the Philippine government should "talk to their colleagues and to work with other players in the area to try and get some agreement" on how to best resolve the ongoing territorial dispute with China.

The UK foreign office minister noted that Japan, which also has an ongoing territorial dispute with China, as well as South Korea will soon have their national election.

"So this seems to be a good time for ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to engage, try to dampen down some of the rhetoric that has been going on surrounding the South China Sea issues," said Swire.

Meanwhile, the US embassy in Manila announced that the USS Emory S Land (AS-39), a submarine tender, will arrive in Subic Bay on Sunday for a routine port call that highlights the strong historic, community, and military connections between the US and the Philippines.

According to the US embassy, this visit will allow the ship to replenish supplies as well as give the crew an opportunity for rest and relaxation.

The USS Emory S Land is part of the US Pacific Fleet and is homeported in Diego Garcia.

The US embassy said that while in Subic, the ship's crew will continue to work with the Philippine Navy on engineering subject matter exchanges, as well as basic sailor skill building activities such as shipboard damage control and fire fighting.

The crew will also engage in several community relations projects, including a Christmas-themed event with the Children's Recovery Unit in Olangapo City, as well as sports activities with local youth.