Friday, January 13, 2012


Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, one of the Philippine’s staunchest supporters on Capitol Hill, will lead a group American lawmakers in a visit to Manila after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday even as both nations are set to hold the 2nd instalment of a “strategic dialogue” that aims to define future relations.

McCain will be accompanied by a close friend and colleague in the Senate Armed Services committee Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, chairman of the Subcommittee on Seapower.

McCain had spoken out last year against China’s growing military assertiveness in the mineral rich but disputed Spratly Islands that are claimed in part or in whole by China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

He said the US should make it clear which claims it recognizes and what actions it was ready to support, particularly from treaty ally Philippines.

McCain lost to then Senator Barack Obama in 2008. He recently came out to endorse presidential aspirant Mitt Romney, now locked in a battle to be GOP standard bearer.

The Philippines has special significance for the Arizona solon. A Navy combat pilot, he was shot down during a bombing sortie over Hanoi (Vietnam) in 1967, captured and tortured. When he was finally released in 1973, his first stop was Clark Air Base in Pampanga.

Sources say the US lawmakers will “consult” top Philippine officials over a wide array of subjects. Their itinerary is being finalized by the US Embassy in Manila, and could include a call with President Aquino.

Their visit, to be followed by another delegation of congressmen, comes days before the 2nd Philippine-US Strategic Dialogue is convened here. The meeting will pursue agreements forged during the first dialogue last January in Manila.

Sources say both sides are still firming up the composition of the panels, but likely would be made up of second-tier officials. The first dialogue was attended by Philippine Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino and Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio; and US Asst. Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and Deputy Asst. Secretary of Defense Derek Mitchell.

According to a government communiqué, this meeting discussed “evolving regional architecture in the Asia-Pacific and regional challenges; nuclear non-proliferation; disaster response and climate change; trafficking in persons; promotion of human rights and the rule of law; trade and economic cooperation; combating terrorism; peace and development in Mindanao; and global peacekeeping and multilateral cooperation.”

For the 2nd round of talks, the Philippines is expected to press its request for military assistance, including the acquisition of another Hamilton-class cutter and efforts to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership that could open bigger trade and investment opportunities for the country.

“With a changing regional and global environment, the Philippines and the US are now looking forward to shifting the partnership into higher gear at a time when our ties have become broad-based, modern, mature and resilient,” Foreign Affairs Sec. Albert del Rosario said following the initial meeting.

US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. said the strategic dialogues “affirm our commitment to our longstanding alliance and to continuing our work as equal partners, discuss current challenges and identify new areas for cooperation.”

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