U.S., Philippines Talk Aid, Visiting Forces Agreement

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MANILA, Philippines -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Manila, Philippines, on a two-day visit before joining President Barack Obama in Singapore.

One reason for her visit is to show support for an ally that's been devastated by typhoons in the past month.

But the presence of U.S. troops in the Philippines has been a hot topic in that country.
 
Clinton was warmly received by Filipino high school students and teachers. Their school was submerged and damaged in floods during recent typhoons. School repairs were done by U.S. Embassy employees and their families. The United States also provided 50,000 books for the school book fair. 

"The people from the United States are very sorry for the losses that you people here have experienced. And we very much are your friends and your partners and we want to help you recover from these devastating storms and floods," Clinton said.

The state secretary also pledged an additional $5.2 million in disaster relief and recovery assistance to the Philippines -- $14 million in aid was provided immediately after three consecutive typhoons hit several parts of the country.
 
More than humanitarian reasons, many believe that Clinton's visit is motivated by a highly political issue such as the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows U.S. troops to enter the Philippines for military training exercises.

The United States believes the training agreement is necessary if terrorist groups like Abu Sayaff are to be defeated.

The Philippine Senate has asked President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to cancel the VFA.

"The thing is in many instances alleged witnesses testify that they saw these Americans not merely embedded in the fighting forces of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, but actually engaging in combat in a shooting war," Filipino Senator Miriam Santiago said.

"The Visiting Forces Agreement is an important expression of our partnership and is based on mutual respect and interest," Clinton said.

While this was just a quick stop for Clinton on her Asia tour, it helped solidify ties between two allies. 

Some concerns were expressed about the Visiting Forces Agreement, but in the end, both governments used the secretary's visit to reaffirm their commitment to defense and security cooperation in the Western Pacific.

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Lucille Talusan

Lucille Talusan

CBN News Southeast Asia Correspondent

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