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PH ready to allow US greater access

Del Rosario cites military alliance The Philippines is ready to cooperate with and help the United States if it is attacked by a hostile nation such as North Korea, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Friday. “I think as treaty allies, if there is an attack we should help one another, which is what the treaty alliance is all about,” Del Rosario told reporters after the launching Friday of the joint Philippine-US military exercises in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City. Del Rosario’s statement was in answer to a question about Manila’s willingness to allow US forces to use military facilities in the Philippines if North Korea made good its threat to launch a nuclear attack on the US mainland and its military bases abroad. “We are all concerned about the actions of North Korea and we are preparing our own contingency plans,” Del Rosario said. President Benigno Aquino III on Friday said Del Rosario would fly to Seoul to be on hand as South Korea and the representatives of foreign governments draft a contingency plan for their residents who might be displaced if tensions worsened between the two Koreas. The President said the government was now in a better position to evacuate some 40,000 Filipinos in South Korea if it became necessary, saying there were now three C 130s available for deployment. The Balikatan joint military exercises joined by 8,000 Filipino and American soldiers will run until April 17, and come amid increasing friction between the Philippines and China over the disputed areas of the South China Sea, which Manila now calls the West Philippine Sea. Most of the naval, aerial and ground exercises will be done in Zambales and Tarlac. A squadron of FA-18 supersonic Hornets, made up of 12 jets, is also set to join the exercises. In welcoming the Balikatan, Del Rosario said the two governments were also working on more joint military activities that would be conducted in the country. “For example, increased rotational presence, we are working on this. These are all elements and form part of the strengthening of treaty alliance,” he said. Last week, Del Rosario said high-level exchanges and discussions focused on security were held in Manila. “US congressional delegations led by the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Veterans Committee were in Manila. Defense Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter was also here. This week I met with both Secretary of the State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Washington DC. In all these discussions, both sides reiterated their firm commitments as strategic partners and treaty allies. These key officials have pledged to work with us to build our own capacity to defend ourselves and defend ourselves we will,” he said. “The Philippines is investing in its own defense at levels never before seen. But we understand clearly that we can increase the value of these investments through joint training and other agreed activities with our allies, joint training with the US results in saving some training expertise and training equipment and other resources, savings that can be used instead to purchase much needed equipment and materiel,” he added. Del Rosario reiterated that the US government supports the Philippines’ quest to settle its territorial disputes with China through arbitration before the International Court of Justice. He said the government has been working for the completion of the five judges in the arbitral tribunal. “I think the case will proceed as planned,” Del Rosario said. China has rejected the arbitration challenge and insists on bilateral talks to resolve the dispute, an approach that Manila has rejected as fruitless. In the Palace, the President said he has ordered the country’s intelligence services to assess whether the threat of a nuclear war in the Korean peninsula is real and imminent. “Our instruction is for our intelligence services to assess whether or not the threat is real and how bad is it. Second, to dust up all of the plans that were already in place as early as two years ago,” the President said. “We are checking our contingency plans to ensure all the assumptions are still valid but as of now we do not have reports saying that we already need to implement these plans,” he added. The President also raised doubts about North Korea’s intentions. “Why should North Korea make such a pronouncement at this time? Do they have internal problems? Sometimes, if there are internal problems, one creates external noise to distract the citizens,” the President said. The Philippines has already raised Alert level 1 for Filipinos in South Korea. Under the state of heightened alert, Filipinos in the peninsula are urged to monitor the political and security changes in the country. With Joyce Pangco Pañares, Macon Ramos-Araneta and Vito Barcelo
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