Philippines shops for US military gear

Washington D.C. (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Amid increasing concern over renewed tensions in the South China Sea, the Philippine Embassy here is shopping for excess defence equipment from the United States under Washington¿s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme.

Jose L. Cuisia Jr., the Philippine ambassador to the US, said he has asked the national defence department and armed forces back home to provide him with a wish list of military equipment they will need to shore up the country¿s defence capability.

He said he expected the defence department to ¿prioritise¿ its modernisation goals, but was careful not to explicitly link the purchase of US excess defence articles to the Philippine military¿s job of securing the territorial sovereignty of the country in the face of China¿s alleged intrusions into the areas of the disputed Spratlys group claimed by the Philippines.

¿There are defence articles that will be available, and that¿s why I¿m asking the Navy, Air Force and Army what their needs are," said Cuisia who made this disclosure during a visit at the embassy here last week of former President Fidel Ramos.

It is part of Cuisia¿s job to negotiate with US officials contracts for the purchase of US military hardware. The FMS programme is a standardised method for the sale by the US of defence equipment, services and training to foreign countries and governments.

Cuisia said the negotiations with the US are only after the defence department, in consultation with the military, has determined ¿what the country needs¿.

He said he has already seen the list provided by the Navy, but the other service commands¿the Army and Air Force¿have yet to come up with their own wish lists.

Hamilton class cutter

On May 13, Cuisia marked his debut as the new ambassador to Washington by signing the certificate of transfer of the decommissioned US Coast Guard Hamilton class cutter to the Philippines. (The cutters are called ¿Hamilton class¿ after their lead ship, the Hamilton, named after Alexander Hamilton, the first US Secretary of the Treasury.)

While in the US Coast Guard service, the vessel saw action in maritime safety and security missions, including drug and migrant interdiction, and search and rescue.

The patrol vessel, whose two 1,800 horsepower gas turbines can propel it to speeds of up to 28 knots, will be renamed the BRP Gregorio del Pilar. It is the biggest ship ever to be acquired by the Philippine Navy, and will be sailed to Manila next month.

Philippine military officials have high hopes of acquiring a few other relatively modern patrol ships as the US will retire eight more Coast Guard cutters over the next five years.

Cuisia, however, seemed lukewarm to purchasing a decommissioned US warship because of the high price tag, even if it¿s being sold at a ¿very big discounted price¿.

¿Is that what we really need? Do we need another one, or do we need something else?" he said.

¿Do we need a frigate? Maybe that¿s not what we need. Maybe what we need are fast patrol boats to go after pirates, after Abu Sayyaf, etc.," he said.

Caution vs arms buildup

Ramos warned Philippine defence officials against promoting an arms buildup in the Spratlys group, a reputedly oil-rich chain of islands and reefs, which is claimed wholly or in part by the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan.

¿There¿s a buildup on many sides¿even us. This is a little tiny buildup, which is the (purchase of a) Coast Guard cutter. Why don¿t we use all this money that¿s being budgeted for an arms buildup for peace, development and prosperity?" he said.

Escalating tensions in the Spratlys, which straddle busy international shipping lanes, is a relic of the Cold War, said the retired general who met with Cuisia and the Filipino community here during a 12-day swing of the US in May.

Ramos urged Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to accept an invitation from Chinese President Hu Jintao to visit Beijing. He said this would help ease the tension over China¿s recent alleged intrusions.

As early as March, Aquino has been invited by China to make an official visit, but Malacañang has yet to set a date.

Joint patrol of rivals

Ramos envisions a ¿common defence¿ of the South China Sea instead of rival claimants locked in a perpetual war mode, pointing their arsenals against each other.

His proposed setup is akin to a joint patrol of contested waters in which all claimant countries would contribute forces to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.

¿What do we do with these existing armies? Why don¿t we in Asia Pacific agree to treat each other like partners in peace and prosperity instead of us potential rivals 10 years from now?" he said.

Ramos noted the marked changes in the global security environment after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, which precipitated the disintegration of the Soviet Union and with it, the threat of international communism.

In both the Korean War and Viet Nam War, the US had pursued a policy of containment, triggering the mushrooming of US military bases in Asia and around the world as the free world¿s response to the advance of communism, he said.

The Philippines sided with the US in both wars, nurturing a political, economic and military relationship in post-World War II which did not always sit well with communist China.

But with China embracing capitalism, its economy is set to eclipse the US in 2016, as the International Monetary Fund recently predicted.

The real enemy

According to Ramos, the real enemy in the 21st century is no longer one country against the other.

¿That¿s outmoded. That¿s a Cold War mentality," he said.

¿The force which is being applied one against the other and then continues to escalate should not just be identified with the No 1 and No 2 superpowers (the US and China) because who is the enemy? What is the enemy now? It¿s international terrorism. It¿s endemic disease. It¿s climate change. It is poverty," Ramos said.

¿Can you imagine how much better the quality of life all around the world, especially in the Philippines and in China and in many parts of the world, would be if the huge amount of dollars, of yuan and pesos will be devoted to economic and social development?" he said.

The Ramos Peace and Development Foundation is working toward this goal of regional stability and prosperity, he said.

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