Aquino Govt appeals to US to remove 'withholding element' in military aid

The Philippines appealed to the United States to remove the "withholding element" from its military assistance program, saying there is no factual basis for perception of worsening human rights situation in the country.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Del Rosario made the appeal as he met yesterday with visiting members of the US House Appropriations Committee at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) with whom he discussed bilateral issues including defense, security development assistance and good governance.

"We talked about areas of continued assistance and what priority request we have from the US," Del Rosario told reporters following the meeting with the US lawmakers.

Del Rosario said he requested the withholding mechanism in the US Foreign Military Financing (FMF) dropped as the US Congress continues to withhold a portion of US assistance to the Philippine military until the Philippine government meets certain conditions related to solving and prosecuting cases of extrajudicial killings.

"As a result, their thinking is that we are not quite up to standard in terms of our human rights standard in the Philippines. We are trying to live those standards so that withholding element can be removed," Del Rosario said.

"We are asking them to revisit that because we do not like the idea that we are being portrayed as a human rights violator which is not factual. As a matter of fact, we are trying to address that perception and we do have very specific mechanisms to be able to do that," he added.

US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. informed representatives of Philippine-based human rights groups during a discussion at the US Embassy on Oct. 21, 2011 about the withholding of US assistance to the Philippines.

Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) chairperson Teodoro de Mesa led representatives of human rights groups during the meeting with Thomas.

Thomas said the US Embassy was encouraged by the pledge that President Aquino made in his 2010 State of the Nation Address to curb extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

Thomas noted however that the 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report on the Philippines included assertions of cases of extrajudicial killings that occurred under the Aquino administration.

He expressed concern regarding the slow pace of investigations and prosecutions of past cases.

Thomas said that from 2007 to 2010, the US government extended $3.5 million in grants to the Philippine government and non-government organizations to strengthen their capacity to address human rights violations.

He said the US government would continue to press for progress on addressing past cases and the ongoing problem of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

The human rights groups' representatives informed Thomas of their ongoing projects and suggested measures that could significantly improve human rights conditions in the Philippines.

Del Rosario, meanwhile, said he also followed up the Philippine government's request for third Coast Guard Cutter and a squadron of F16 fighter jets under defense articles.

"We are following up on our request for our third Coast Guard Cutter. As you know the second one we are awaiting delivery. We are also following up our request for the F16. We are asking for a squadron to be considered for the Philippines," he said.

Del Rosario said that in December, the US expressed willingness to help the Philippines obtain a squadron of F-16 to improve its defense capability but stressed there is no discussion yet on stationing of US naval vessels in the Philippines.

He noted plans to station US navy ships in the region including Singapore but there was no discussion yet of stationing of naval vessels in the Philippines.

Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin will visit the US in February or March to meet with their counterparts.

Del Rosario said the US is ready to help improve the Philippines' defense capability.

He said the planned acquisitions had already been discussed with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other US officials.

Clinton delivered during her visit to Manila in November a strong message of assurance and support for the Philippines in protecting its maritime domain and improving territorial defense. Clinton delivered her message on the deck of an American warship that arrived in Manila for her visit.

The territorial conflict and heightened tensions between China and the Philippines over the resource-rich West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) remains a critical factor in bilateral relations between China and the Philippines.

The Philippines formally accepted in May the turnover of a US Coast Guard (USCG) Hamilton-class cutter acquired by the Philippines through the US Foreign Military Sales program. The cutter was refurbished and renamed BRP Gregorio del Pilar. It is now the largest patrol ship in the Philippine Navy.

Reference: Philstar News

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