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02/05/2012: US REITERATES IT WILL HONOR OBLIGATIONS UNDER MDT AMID STANDOFF IN BAJO DE MASINLOC AND URGES CLAIMANT STATES TO THE WPS TO CLARIFY CLAIMS UNDER UNCLOS

02 MAY 2012, WASHINGTON, D.C. __Amid the standoff between the Philippines and China in the Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal), Secretary Hillary Clinton firmly reiterated that the United States will honor its treaty obligations under its Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the Philippines and urged the claimant countries in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to clarify and settle their claims legally in accordance with international law including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) – a move which PH has been advocating.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta likewise stressed that the MDT “remains the cornerstone of our security relationship” and added that the US is “improving the Philippines maritime presence and capabilities with the transfer of a second high-endurance cutter this year. “  He  also said that the Pentagon is “working to expand and improve (PH-US) joint ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) and the ability to counter cyber-attacks.”

With reference to the competing claims in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), Secretary Panetta echoed the PH position by declaring that the US is “committed to a rules-based regional order that promotes viable and vibrant trade and the freedom of navigation.”

Secretary Clinton and Secretary Panetta made those statements during the first-ever Two Plus Two meeting held recently  in Washington, D.C. between Secretary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, on one hand, and Secretary Albert F. Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, on the other.

In a separate meeting with the PH delegation at the Pentagon, Secretary Panetta agreed to intensify PH-US cooperation on real-time information-sharing to enable PH to know what is happening in its maritime territory on a 24/7 basis and enforce its laws within its territory.” The US defense secretary said “that (the US) will do everything possible to work with the Philippines.”

Assistant Secretary Andrew Shapiro who heads the State Department’s Bureau for Political-Military Affairs also informed the PH delegation that the US’ executive branch will double its initial allocation of $ 15 million for PH, in terms of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to $ 30 million for FY 2012. The State Department also committed that aside from this, it will explore additional creative funding streams for PH.

During the Two Plus Two Consultations, the PH and the US agreed to enhance their defense and security engagements within the framework of the MDT that will allow them to more effectively address the current and emerging security challenges in a mutually beneficial manner.

According to Secretary Del Rosario, “the focal point for our cooperation is to build a minimum credible defense posture for the Philippines, and increase our capacity for territorial defense, maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.” He added that “our joint military exercises, which are aimed to ensure interoperability of our forces, will continue to be priority activities in this effort.”

The PH and the US also discussed steps to enhance development, trade, and investment, including accelerating the implementation of the Partnership for Growth (PFG), which aims to promote sustained and inclusive growth in the Philippines as well as the Millennium Challenge Compact to reduce poverty in the Philippines.

The first-ever 2 + 2 Ministerial Consultations were a milestone in PH-US relations. (END)