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US to send second ship to bolster Philippines

The United States will soon give a second Coast Guard cutter to the Philippines as part of efforts to boost the ally's military amid tensions at sea with China, officials said Tuesday.

The United States last year transferred its Hamilton cutter to the Philippines, which made it the flagship of its notoriously dilapidated navy and recently sent it on a mission to the disputed Spratly islands.

Lawmakers will this week conclude formalities to send to the former US colony another cutter, the Dallas, Representative Ed Royce and senior Pentagon official Peter Lavoy told a congressional hearing.

"It should soon be on its way to Manila," said Royce, a Republican from southern California whose district has a significant Filipino American community.

"The US and the Philippines want peace and stability in this region, which is key to the global economy," Royce said as he chaired the hearing of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee.

The Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries have accused China of bellicose behavior over disputes in the South China Sea. Despite historical sensitivities about US troops, the Philippines has said it would welcome further rotations by US forces on its soil and more joint exercises.

Lavoy, the top civilian at the Pentagon handling East Asia, said that the United States was "considering a range of military capabilities" as it helps the Philippines move from "an inward focus on domestic threats to an outwardly focused military that needs to be reorganized to address external concerns."

But Lavoy was noncommittal when asked whether the United States would be willing to provide F-16 fighter jets to the Philippines, saying it was critical to look at affordability and other factors.

Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said that cooperation also depended on human rights. Congress has blocked $3 million due to concerns over extrajudicial killings by the Philippine military.

"Although the pace of killings has declined, trying and convicting perpetrators remains an ongoing challenge," Campbell told the hearing.

But Campbell praised Philippine President Benigno Aquino for addressing human rights and other US concerns, including human trafficking.

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