Hillary supports Philippine anti-terrorism fight
Manila: US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday vowed support for the Philippine fight against al Qaeda-linked militants and highlighted the US military's role in helping the country recover from deadly typhoons.
Hillary arrived on a two-day visit after devastating back-to-back storms last month killed nearly 1,000 people in the worst floods and landslides to hit the capital, Manila, and the country's north in more than 40 years.
Hundreds of US troops on counterterrorism exercises quickly responded with heavy equipment, ships and helicopters, cleaning streets clogged with debris and ferrying food to isolated villages.
"We were very pleased that we can respond quickly with our military assets," Clinton told reporters. "Filipino and American doctors worked side by side to help thousands of flood victims. We saw our military forces working together to airlift thousands of tons of food, equipment and other vital cargo."
During a visit to a three-storey high school that was heavily damaged during floods in Manila's Marikina city, Hillary announced an additional USD 5 million in US aid. She spoke in front of hundreds of screaming students, some waving small US and Philippine flags.
"We were severely devastated. I hope they will look at how much damage was caused," said Kim Osorio, a senior at Malanday National High School.
She said a US-Philippine military pact that allows the deployment of US troops is an "important expression of our partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest."
US troops will continue to provide assistance in the Philippines, Hillary said, pointing to the Visiting Forces Agreement, a cornerstone of military alliance that has been criticized by Philippine left-wing and nationalist forces.
The Philippine Senate recently passed a nonbinding resolution calling on the government to renegotiate the agreement that allows about 600 US troops to train and advise Filipino soldiers battling the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf in the country's south.
Despite years of US military training and assistance, Filipino troops have struggled to contain the militants, who have recently intensified attacks, blowing up bridges, firing mortar shells and setting off roadside bombs.
"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 and we will be willing to support them in any way that is appropriate that they request," Hillary said.
The 400-strong Abu Sayyaf has been suspected of getting funds and training from al Qaeda and has been blamed for deadly bombings, beheadings and kidnappings that have victimised Americans and Filipinos. It is also suspected of sheltering militants from the larger Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, and the US government has offered millions of dollars in rewards for the capture of its leaders.