American Forces Press Service
MANILA, Philippines, July 15, 2012 – The senior U.S. commander in the Pacific region arrived here today to reaffirm the strength of the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty and to explore how the United States can support efforts to boost Philippine military capacity.
Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, paying his first visit here since taking command at U.S. Pacific Command in March, is slated to meet with President Benigno S. Aquino III, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces of the Philippines chief, Gen. Jessie Dellosa, for talks to center on maritime and regional security issues.
Locklear told American Forces Press Service during the flight here that he looks forward to building on the historic U.S.-Philippine bilateral defense relationship that marked its 60th anniversary last year.
The admiral recalled his days as a young Navy officer when the United States had a large presence at Subic Bay and U.S. military members worked closely with their Filipino counterparts. Although the U.S. footprint in the Philippines has changed significantly over the years, he said, the trust and collaboration established between the two nations hasn’t.
That foundation will be important, he said, as the United States helps the Filipino military transition from an army-centric, internally focused organization into one able to draw on more joint capabilities to address regional challenges.
“Now, as the security environment changes, many countries recognize that there has got to be more maritime domain awareness [and] more understanding of what is happening around them rather than [just] what is happening internally,” he said. “So what we are looking for is to try to provide [the Philippines] assistance that builds the interoperability of our defense forces over time.”
The United States isn’t alone in this endeavor, the admiral said, noting that other regional allies and partners are invested as well, recognizing that the broad challenges across the Asia-Pacific region demand strong multilateral cooperation.
Among those challenges are tense maritime disputes in the South China Sea. The Philippines, China, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam all claim portions of the contested waterways. The Philippines and China are currently locked in a naval standoff, with both claiming ownership of the contentious Scarborough Shoal. That dispute reached a new level just before Locklear’s arrival as a Chinese naval frigate ran aground about 70 miles off the Philippines’ western coast. The incident was resolved peacefully as the Chinese freed the stranded vessel earlier today.
Locklear, speaking with reporters in Australia before that latest development, said the United States doesn’t take sides in territorial disputes and encourages peaceful resolution through international legal processes. He warned, however, of excessive maritime claims that cause friction among neighbors, and if not resolved, could lead to “miscalculation” that threatens stability.
During his meetings with Filipino military and political leaders, Locklear said he’ll seek ways to expand the U.S.-Philippine military-to-military relationship in ways that promote regional stability and security.
“On the military side, a productive alliance requires us to be able to work together, to have connectivity with each other, to be able to share information, and to be able to bring our military systems together in a meaningful way across all aspects of military power -- whether it’s humanitarian assistance and disaster relief or a contingency or otherwise,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to giving the message to the Filipino military and to the leaders there that the United States is a very reliable ally,” he said. “We want the Filipinos to be a reliable ally to us as well.”
Locklear said he will reinforce the message of U.S. commitment that Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made during his visit here in June. Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta had delivered the same message days before that visit when they met with Gazmin and Dellosa at the annual Shangri-La regional security summit in Singapore.
That discussion followed U.S.-Philippine “Two Plus Two” talks in Washington in April. Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Gazmin and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario met for what Panetta called “very successful” sessions about expanding the alliance.
Locklear said he looks forward on building on this momentum in ways that deepen engagement between the two countries and identify ways they can work together to support common security goals.
“This is a reaffirmation that the Mutual Defense Treaty is still in place and still strong,” the admiral said of his visit here. “And it is an opportunity for us to find places and missions were we can partner and exercise together in a way that will increase our overall security cooperation and increase security in this critical part of the Asia-Pacific.”