US donates 'smart bombs' to PH military, vows sustained support for anti-terrorist ops

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Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddyboy Locsin (L) and US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien (R)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 23) — The United States on Monday reinforced strong ties with the Philippine military through a donation of weapons and a pledge to negotiate contentious provisions in the Visiting Forces Agreement.

US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien, an appointee of President Donald Trump, visited Manila to deliver precision-guided munitions or "smart bombs" worth $18 million (about ₱867 million) meant to boost military capacity in fending off militant groups.

"We today transferred precision ammunitions including missiles and missile launchers to the Philippines. That's a sign of the confidence that we have in the Philippine military so the military can prosecute the war against ISIS, just like we're prosecuting the war against ISIS in the Middle East," O'Brien said as he faced reporters at the US Embassy in Manila.

"We are going to continue to extend the weapons and munitions that they need to defend themselves... The Philippine military is engaged in a tough fight against among others, Jihadists and Islamist terrorists. We will continue supporting the Philippines in that fight."

The Philippines is a "strong, stable" democratic ally of the US, O'Brien said, adding that these close relations also allow some American authorities to point out human rights issues they observed from its "friends."

READ: Biden presidency likely to raise focus on human rights situation in PH — ex-presidential spokesman

On top of military support, O'Brien announced that the US government is also extending a $3.5-million (about ₱168 million) aid to help communities hit hard by recent typhoons. The amount will provide drinking water, shelter, and medical attention to displaced families.

O'Brien said the Trump administration was "very pleased" to learn that President Rodrigo Duterte decided to hold off his plan to revoke the VFA for another six months, adding that this should be shelved longer to give time for the two countries to sit down and negotiate on differences regarding the treaty.

EXPLAINER: The Visiting Forces Agreement

The VFA is the first of two agreements between Washington and Manila about the treatment of their troops when they are in the US or the Philippines. The 1998 deal includes provisions on visa and passport policies for American troops, and rights of the US government to retain jurisdiction over its military personnel, among others.

O'Brien said Trump approved of his trip to Asia even in the middle of the global COVID-19 crisis, citing the importance of keeping warm ties with allies in the region.

"Many of the countries in the region have the same concern: they want to keep their sovereignty, they want to keep their independence... We're here to let people in Asia know, especially our close friends like the Philippines know that America is not leaving, we got your back," the Trump adviser said.

"Whatever happens in our domestic politics in the United States, this is a critical alliance and we are going to be here to support the Philippines irrespective of what happens politically in America," he added.

He was alluding to the recent political turmoil involving Trump and US President-elect Joe Biden following the results of the November 3 polls. Trump has refused to accept Biden's victory and is poised to question the votes in states where there was a slim margin in the votes counted.

O'Brien said Trump's claims of cheating will be "dealt with by the courts," as he asserted that American democracy remains "strong and vibrant" to this day.

As national security advisor, O'Brien is a Trump appointee and is part of senior White House staff.

O'Brien, a lawyer, also took a hardline stance against China's incursions in the South China Sea as he reaffirmed that the US "stands with the Philippines" as a state policy.

"The oil, gas, minerals, fisheries within the exclusive economic zone in the Philippines belongs to your country. We don't want to go back to an era of 'might makes right,'" he added, as he blasted China for being "aggressive" in its incursions in the South China Sea.

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