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US envoy Goldberg vows 'Yolanda' aid to continue
Publication Date : 03-12-2013
New US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg on Monday met with President Benigno Aquino III, expressing condolences for the victims of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” and vowing that his country would continue to help the Philippines in its rehabilitation efforts.
“I first want to say that we’re all still saddened and want to send our condolences to the people of the Eastern Visayas, with all the people of the Philippines after Typhoon Yolanda,” Goldberg told reporters in Malacañang after presenting his credentials to the President.
“I had a chance to make the same kind of expression to President Aquino that the United States will remain with the Philippines as you move from the relief period into reconstruction. And the United States will take the lead of the Philippine government in areas that are most urgent for rehabilitation and reconstruction,” he said.
But Goldberg also took the opportunity to make a pitch for an agreement that would allow “increased rotational presence” of US troops and access to their former military bases in the Philippines.
“In the security area, but also in the cooperation that we have undertaken to work on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, we want to further that effort and be able to help even more as we move toward a framework agreement where the United States and the Philippines can move to the next level of [their] relationship,” he said.
Goldberg, however, could not say when Manila and Washington could complete negotiations for the agreement, but insisted that it was not intended to reestablish US military bases in the Philippines.
“Let me say clearly, though, we’re not talking about bases or any kind of new bases for the United States. This is about our capacity to help the Philippine government and military as it advances in many areas in its own interests. So, as I said, I hope it’s as soon as possible,” he said.
The increased rotation of troops in the Philippines is part of the US “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region, a strategy that would see 60 percent of the United States’ warships shifting to the region by 2020.
The shift is now viewed as becoming more urgent as China presses its claim to nearly all of regional waters where it has rivals for territory, including Japan, Taiwan and five members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
China air zone
On November 23, China declared a maritime air defence identification zone (Adiz) over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that had long been administered by Japan and demanded that airlines submit flight plans to Chinese authorities, warning that it would take unspecified “defensive measures” against aircraft that would not comply with the new policy.
Japan, the United States, Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia and other countries opposed China’s declaration, with the United States sending two unarmed B-52 bombers through the zone last Tuesday to show it was serious in rejecting the unilaterally established airspace.
Two days later, however, the US government advised American airlines to comply with China’s identification demand for safety, but made clear that did not mean it accepted the air zone.
The Philippines is worried China will also declare a similar zone over the West Philippine Sea where Beijing is claiming resource-rich islands, islets, reefs and atolls with Manila’s economic exclusion zone.
Goldberg warned that China’s declaration of the air defence zone has raised tensions in the region and created the “possibility of miscalculations”.
It is that possibility that Washington seeks to prevent by advising American airlines to comply with the Chinese identification demand, Goldberg said.
“Even if we don’t believe Adiz is warranted, the United States does not impose an Adiz on aircraft that are not entering US airspace,” he said.
“But at the same time, we can’t with commercial aircraft, take chances, as I mentioned, of miscalculation, so we have recommended to our commercial airlines that they give such notification. So that’s where the difference is between military and commercial [aircraft],” he said.
Goldberg said China’s declaring an air defense identification zone was “never good” in confidence building, whether in the East China Sea or in the West Philippine Sea.
Goldberg did not say how Washington would react should Beijing declare an air defense zone over the West Philippine Sea, pressed the importance of increased US access to Philippine military bases to quick response to disasters, such as the response to Yolanda.
Greater aid ability
“It’s important for the Philippines, I think, as we saw with Supertyphoon Yolanda, to have even a greater ability to provide for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” said Goldberg, who had visited Tacloban City and Palo in Leyte province where he said he had seen “the human suffering that has taken place and the lives that will have to be rebuilt.”
“The ability to have that a little bit faster and, more efficiently, we’ll always be of help,” he said.
The Philippine government has been criticised for its slow and disorganised response to Yolanda, which flattened entire communities with up to 250-kilometre-per-hour winds and storm surges up to 6 meters high as it swept across central Philippines on November 8.
Yolanda left more than 5,600 people dead, 26,100 others injured, and more than 4 million homeless.
The typhoon totally destroyed many communities, but it was not clear if that extent of destruction was anticipated in the government’s “master plan” for disaster response.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said local governments were “the ones tasked to provide areas for relocation” of displaced residents.
Not just typhoon
Asked if the US government was satisfied with the Philippine response to the disaster, Goldberg said: “I think everyone should understand that this was not a typhoon. This was a supertyphoon. It was something unlike anything we’ve seen in its intensity—the water rush, the winds and the amount of rain. So it was a very difficult situation to respond to, but we’re working very closely with the government of the Philippines, taking the lead from here as we move into this next stage.”
As of Monday, the US government had pledged 2.4 billion pesos (US$55 million) in aid, sent more than 50 ships and aircraft for rescue operations and relief missions, according to Malacanang’s Foreign Aid Transparency Hub.
In a separate statement, Goldberg said “the heroic efforts following Typhoon Yolanda are but one recent manifestation of the long and deep relationship between the United States and the Philippines.”
“Amid this tragedy, we are heartened by the devotion of all those people, Filipino and American, civilian and military, who rushed to the scene to provide life-saving assistance,” he said.
“This cooperation in the selfless service of others truly represents the best of our two nations. I am confident that with strength and resilience, the people touched by this tragedy will soon rebuild their lives. And the United States will be there to help them along the way.”