Manila – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday vowed continued U.S. support for the Philippine government’s fight against al-Qaida-linked militants and the country’s recovery from a series of devastating storms in the last six weeks. Clinton is continuing an Asia trip with a two-day visit to Manila.
Clinton received a boisterous welcome from about 2,000 Filipino school children as she visited the Marikina district of Manila that was inundated by floodwaters from Typhoon Ketsana in late September.
It was the first of a series of three massive storms that devastated wide areas of the island of Luzon, where Manila is located, and claimed almost a thousand lives.
Clinton announced $5 million in new U.S. relief aid on top more than $14 million in rescue and relief aid in the immediate aftermath of the storms, much of it delivered by U.S. military forces based in the Philippines and elsewhere in the region.
Several hundred U.S. military personnel are in the Philippines advising the country’s forces on counter-insurgency tactics under the bilateral Visiting Forces Agreement or VFA.
The U.S. support is credited with helping the Philippine government capture or kill key leaders of two Islamic insurgent groups in the country’s southern islands, but the VFA has become a target for Filipino leftist and nationalist factions who want it scrapped.
At a news conference with Philippines Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo, Clinton said it was not her role to discuss military decisions but said the United States is prepared to continue the support for its regional ally.
“I would just reiterate that the United States stands ready to assist our friends in the Philippines who are seeking to counter terrorism and the threat of extremism,” Clinton said. “And we will be willing to support them in any way that is appropriate that they request. But the relationship between our countries, and between our militaries is very strong and cooperative and we look forward to continuing that.”
Foreign Secretary Romulo for his part said the military accord with Washington proved crucial in helping his government cope with typhoon damage, while stressing that U.S. troops are not involved in actual combat with the southern militants.
“Let me say that under the VFA, the United States forces are here to assist, advise and train,” Romulo said. “It’s limited to that. As far as combat matters are concerned, that’s purely Filipino. But on the other hand, in addition to the assisting training and advising, there is also the social-civic as well as the humanitarian aspect of the undertaking.”
Clinton, who flew to Manila from ministerial meetings in Singapore of APEC, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, held evening dinner talks with Philippines President Gloria Arroyo.
She returns to Singapore Friday to join up with President Barack Obama for the APEC summit early next week and Mr. Obama’s first visit as President to China.
‘VOA news issued this report’