THE United States has offered to provide protection to Filipino troops during their re-supply missions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Defense officials said Thursday.
The offer came from US Pacific Command (USPACOM) chief Harry Harris.
“Napag-usapan naming yang pagtulong nila sa maritime security concerns natin at to ensure freedom of navigation and flight (We talked about their assistance on maritime security concerns that will ensure freedom of navigation and flight),” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.
Peter Paul Galvez, spokesman for the Defense department, said Harris expressed willingness to lend assistance and “protection” of the AFP’s resupply mission particularly on Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal).
He, however, refused to give details of the protection to be accorded by the US “for security reasons.”
A grounded ship in the shoal serves as a naval detachment of the Philippine Marines.
On Thursday, Harris and top military officials led by AFP chief Hernando Iriberri visited the AFP Western Command (Westcom) in Palawan which is near the South China Sea for “familiarization and meeting of the minds with Westcom officials.
Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez, Westcom commander, said the meeting was aimed at “having a common appreciation of the situation on the ground.”
Lopez said Harris was also briefed on the AFP’s monitoring at the West Philippine Sea.
During his visit at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City (Metro Manila) on Wednesday, Harris discussed with Iriberri the latest US Defense Department Asia Pacific Maritime Security Strategy Report that focuses on challenges in the region, particularly the sea dispute.
The report summarizes the schemes the department is employing to preserve peace and security in the region including the strengthening of US military capacity; working with allies and partners from Northeast Asia to the Indian Ocean to build their capacity to address potential challenges in their waters and across the region; to leverage military diplomacy to build greater transparency, reduce the risk of miscalculation or conflict, and promote shared maritime rules of the road; and work to strengthen regional security institutions and encourage the development of an open and effective regional security architecture.