140 US warships visited PH in 2013
Even before an agreement on enhanced defense cooperation between Philippines and the United States is signed, the American presence in the country has already increased significantly over the past years.
Information obtained by the Manila Bulletin showed that in 2013, a total of 140 US Navy (USN) warships made port visits in the country. A US embassy official said the number does not include the USS George Washington battle group, which took part in relief efforts in the Visayas after super typhoon Yolanda.
Last year, USN ship visits indicated a 100 percent increase in the past five years. The figure is almost 70 percent higher than 2012.
In 2009, 71 USN ships visited different ports in the Philippines, according to data gathered from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) through the Philippine Navy (PN). In the following year, 78 ships visited the country.
The number of USN port visits dropped to 59 in 2011, but in 2012, the figure almost doubled, reaching 95.
USN vessels making stopovers in the country include aircraft carriers, guided-missile cruisers and destroyers, amphibious transport dock ship, the US 7th Fleet flagship command ship, submarines, and submarine tender.
Within Existing Treaties
According to Philippine Navy (PN) public affairs officer Lt. Cdr. Gregory Fabic, the visiting USN ships are within the existing treaties and agreements the Philippine government has entered into with the US Navy and the US government.
Fabic stressed the visiting ships are always covered with diplomatic clearances.
The US government under the Obama administration announced in 2011 its rebalance to Asia with majority of its warships moving to the region.
Benefits Of Visits
When asked how the country benefits from USN port visits, Fabic said that “at some extent, visits were able to fortify the tie between the two countries and forge a stronger alliance and cooperation on maritime concerns.”
“During visits, there have been always subject matter expert exchanges (SMEE) of both parties, enhancement of skills and capabilities thru at-sea naval exercises and in-shore training, goodwill games, community relations projects and other activities which could be an avenue for bilateral or multi-lateral engagements,” he added.
US and Philippine authorities likewise noted how the local economy benefits from every USN ship visit.
Port Fees And Supplies
Citing as an example the USS Pinckney that made a port visit in February this year, Capt. Brian Block, Military Public Affairs Liaison at the US Embassy in Manila, said: “For a ship like the USS Pinckney (a destroyer) with a crew of around 300, approximately a third of them will have to stay on the ship at any time for security, maintenance, etc. That means about 200 sailors out in town – if we assume they spend $50 a day for food, lodging, entertainment, etc., for a four-day visit we’re talking about $40,000.”
“Of course not everyone spends the same so $50 is just an average and I pulled it out of thin air. This is in addition to the port services fees the ship pays for – which for a ship the Pinckney’s size are about $100,000,” he added.
That number, Block said, does not include food and fuel supplies, the cost of which varies depending on the existing stocks when the ship pulls in.
He stressed though these are just “very, very rough estimates.”
On Monday, the Philippines and US negotiating panels kicked off the seventh round of negotiations on a proposed agreement which is seen to further deepen defense cooperation between the two treaty allies.
In his opening statement, Defense Undersecretary and chair of the Philippine negotiating panel Pio Lorenzo Batino cited the “enduring alliance” between the Philippines and the US, stating that as “our partnership has evolved and our relations have matured,” both countries must continue to find ways to ensure that our alliance remains responsive to our security requirements.
Batino stressed that, “For the Philippines, our internal environment has changed as well and we need to find a new model for our security engagement.”
Batino also emphasized that the draft agreement being negotiated was a reaffirmation of “our shared commitment to the enduring alliance.”
Ambassador Eric John, chairman of the US negotiating panel, for his part, said: “I think that we’ve seen over the last many decades the effectiveness of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) but an agreement like this also proves the vibrancy of the MDT.”
The official also said the other issue that they have agreed on at the outset of negotiations was the respect for the sovereignty of the Philippines.
“And that’s a message that you made clear the very first round and that’s the message all of us took back to Washington. And it is the best spirit of respect for sovereignty and respect for long standing partnership that we entered into these negotiations,” he stressed.
This round follows the sixth round held earlier this month in Washington, D.C.