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Panetta Discusses Defense Cooperation With Philippine Minister

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

SINGAPORE, June 2, 2012 – Building on momentum from the U.S.-Philippine “Two-Plus-Two” talks held in Washington in April, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Philippine National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin held talks here today.

The two defense ministers discussed regional issues and ways the Philippine and U.S. militaries can exercise, train and operate together. The men were both attending the 11th annual Asia security summit known as the Shangri-La Dialogue.

The Philippines is one of America’s treaty allies in the region. The U.S. and Philippines signed a Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951, and both men agreed the alliance is still critical to regional peace and security, said George Little, acting assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.

“The meeting allowed the two leaders to reflect on the alliance and continue their discussion regarding possible ways to enhance the longstanding relationship and support the U.S. presence in the region in ways that are mutually beneficial,” Little said in a written statement.

The security challenge in the archipelago is diverse. There are more than 7,100 islands in the nation and many different ethnicities. The Abu Sayyaf is a terrorist group in the southern part of the country that has waged a terror campaign against the government for 20 years. The group is loosely affiliated with al-Qaida and early on received funding from Osama bin Laden.

With a population of around 100 million, the Philippines is the 12th largest country in the world. It is a crossroads of Asia, and, unfortunately, right on the series of fault lines called the Ring of Fire. There are about 125,000 members in the Armed Forces of the Philippines and another 130,000 reservists.

“The cornerstone of the existing and any future enhancements of our security relationship will be to assist with capacity building of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, safeguard stability in the region, and increase interoperability so that we can effectively provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction together,” Little said.

Panetta and Gazmin also discussed areas of mutual concern and future growth. They specifically spoke about further development of collective defense capabilities and communications infrastructure; enhancing maritime domain awareness capacity; continued cooperation on the protection of cyberspace; and expanding joint information sharing, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities.

The U.S. is improving Philippine maritime presence and capabilities with the transfer of a second high-endurance cutter later this year. The two militaries are also increasing interoperability through the annual Balikatan exercise that finished in April.

The status of the South China Sea also came up during the discussion, Little said. Several countries have claimed the area, through which roughly a third of the world’s shipping transits. The Philippines, China, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam claim portions of the sea.

“Both sides reiterated their respective national interests in the right to freedom of navigation and their support for a collaborative and multilateral diplomatic process to resolve any territorial disputes peacefully in accordance with international law,” the Pentagon spokesman said.

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Related Sites:
Photo Essay: Panetta Attends Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore
Special Report: Travels With Panetta


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