MANILA: Four senior American lawmakers assured the US would provide the Philippines with two more Coast Guard cutters to improve its defence capability amid the tension arising from the dispute in the Spratly island group in the South China Sea.
Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman said the two warships are in addition to the Coast Guard cutter from the US that the Philippines has already deployed on the island province of Palawan.
Lieberman was with a delegation of four US lawmakers who visited Manila until Jan.18 to confer with Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino and other officials on issues affecting relations between the two countries.
Senator John McCain of Arizona, another member of the delegation, assured that the Washington’s announcement of the expansion of the US military presence in Asia “does not mean (the return) of American military bases in the Philippines.”
“The Filipino people, I believe, do not want military bases but I do believe that can mean joint military operations can be undertaken,” McCain pointed out.
McCain, a Vietnam war veteran who was captured and became a prisoner of war by the Viet Cong, lost as the Republican standard bearer to Democratic candidate Senator Barack Obama in the 2008 US presidential elections.
McCain likewise stressed that the feared conflict with China over the Spratlys dispute was “not inevitable” but US alliance with the Philippines must be attained.
And such alliance, he added, could be achieved through the provision of two more warships to the Philippines.
“We think it’s important for us and the other Asean nations like the Philippines to emphasise that we will do whatever we need to do in order to protect the principle of freedom of navigation particularly in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).”
Asean stands for the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations composed of the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar (Burma). Three of the members — Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia — have staked their claim to parts of the Spratlys which experts have confirmed to be rich in fisheries as well as in oil and petroleum resources.