Philippine president wishes for fighter jets from US

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) -

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III will ask US President Barack Obama for fighter jets when they meet, probably in April next year.

Aquino, a member of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) reserve force, made the remarks in his speech before officers and personnel during opening ceremonies for the PAF Invitational Shootfest and firing range blessing at Villamor Airbase on Saturday.

"We went to Bali, Indonesia, recently and as we were leaving for the Philippines, we saw at their airport three F-16s parked and they would be given two squadrons more by our American friends," Aquino said in an impromptu speech.

"I said, this looks rather equitible. Two squadrons for them, one ship for us," he added in jest.

The President said he would remind Obama of the strategic partnership between the Philippines and the United States.

Obama has invited President Aquino to go on a state visit to the US next year.

"I think that when I and President Obama meet next year, perhaps around April, I will remind him of our strategic partnership. They might remember that we don't have a fighter jet here," Aquino said.

The Philippines recently acquired from the United States a Hamilton-class cutter and has named the erstwhile US Coast Guard vessel the BRP Gregorio del Pilar.

"The Navy will be getting-I am told, I have been assured-our second Hamilton class cutter sometime next year," the President said.

"And we did request that when it is given to us, they would no longer remove the equipment installed for us to put back in place when it gets to us and it appears that our request would be granted... Perhaps not the entire system (would remain) but a lot of it," he added.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told defence secretary Voltaire Gazmin during talks in Manila in November that Washington would give the Philippines a second cutter virtually for free in 2012.

The Philippines and the US signed a Mutual Defence Treaty in 1951.

The US recently indicated its preparedness to engage its allies in East Asia and Southeast Asia to ensure the freedom of economic activity and the implementation of maritime rules in the region.

Obama made the remarks when he was asked during a forum at the Apec Summit in Hawaii last month what issues he would tackle and what goals he wanted to accomplish when he attended the East Asia Summit and the US-Asean Summit in Bali also in November.

In a separate news briefing during the Apec meet, the commander of the US Pacific Fleet and recent Manila visitor Adm. Robert Willard said the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is an important sea lane that is vital to the region, to US allies "and certainly to the United States."

Willard said the sea lanes that "criss-cross" the South China Sea carry US$5.3 trillion in annual bilateral trade, of which $1.2 trillion is in US trade.

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