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08/09/2009: Secretary Teodoro Meets with Key US Legislators

08 SEPTEMBER 2009 – While in Washington D.C. to meet with his U.S. counterpart Secretary Robert Gates, Philippine Secretary of National Defense Gilberto C. Teodoro, Jr. took the opportunity to meet today with key leaders of the US Congress. In separate meetings on the Hill, Secretary Teodoro conferred with Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI) and Representative Bob Filner (D-CA) to thank them for their crucial role in the passage of the Filipino veterans provision contained in the Stimulus Package. Secretary Teodoro also met with U.S. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) in Washington D.C. to discuss Philippines-United States defense cooperation and the two countries’ strategic interests in the Asia Pacific region. Ambassador Willy C. Gaa accompanied Secretary Teodoro in these meetings.

Senator Inouye, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told Secretary Teodoro that the recognition by the United States of Filipino veterans of World War II and the grant of corresponding benefits had long been overdue. He said, “I have long felt that the US has shortchanged the Philippines….We’re going to make up for that.” Secretary Teodoro assured Senator Inouye that the Senator’s model of championing the cause of the Filipino WWII veterans was sufficient and that what should be done now is to work together to implementing the law. On Senator Inouye’s concern about Mindanao and the peace process, Secretary Teodoro said that the Abu Sayyaf is less a problem now and that direct conflict with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is suspended, at least temporarily. The Secretary said that in order for the peace process to move forward, there is a need to establish ground rules and not to depend on old agreements as templates. Senator Inouye expressed his intention to visit the Philippines in December this year.

In the succeeding meeting, Secretary Teodoro told Rep. Filner that the Philippines and the United States should now build on the success of the Filipino veterans campaign and bring the relationship to something beyond it. He said that one area of cooperation is Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), a non-traditional security initiative that increasingly becomes more important as a result of climate change and natural disasters that know no borders. Rep. Filner acknowledged Secretary Teodoro’s comments and said that the impacts of climate change have put pressures on affected people and made them struggle where to live. Rep. Filner told Secretary Teodoro that he is bringing to the Philippines a trade mission from San Diego in November 2009. During his visit, he will also take this opportunity to meet with Filipino veterans groups. Aside from being the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Rep. Filner is also Chair of the Philippines-United States Friendship Caucus in the House of Representatives.

At the meeting with Senator Webb, Secretary Teodoro expressed his appreciation for US assistance in building schools and infrastructure in areas prone to conflict particularly in Mindanao. He added that despite recent clashes with the Abu Sayyaf, the Philippine government in general has significantly weakened this terrorist group. The Secretary said, “There is not much outside support for the Abu Sayyaf, especially from Al-Qaeda and the Jemaah Islamiyah.” Senator Webb is Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee for East Asia and the Pacific and Member of the Committee on Armed Services.

Senator Webb thanked Secretary Teodoro for his visit and expressed the desire to visit the Philippines soon. He said that “we do not show up enough in Southeast Asia.” Senator Webb also expressed his interest and concern in maritime disputes in East Asia, particularly in the South China Sea. Secretary Teodoro acknowledged Sen. Webb’s concerns and pointed out that the main focus of the Philippines is internal security and force build up as well as enhancing the Coast South Watch in partnership with the United States and other countries.

Asked to comment on the significance of these meetings on the Hill, Ambassador Gaa stated that Secretary Teodoro has shown the seriousness of the Philippines in engaging the legislative branch of the US government. “His visit on the Hill highlighted the gratitude of the Philippine defense and military sector for the efforts made by the champions of the Filipino veterans in the US Congress,” the Ambassador said. “Under the Obama administration, there has been renewed interest and drive by the U.S. government to engage more closely the East Asian region. The North Korean nuclear issue, U.S.-China relations, the threat of Jemaah Islamiyah, regional cooperation on disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, are among some of the issues on which the Philippines has been working closely with its regional partners, ASEAN and the U.S. government. Thus, it was an excellent opportunity for Secretary Teodoro to discuss with key US legislators the latest developments in the region that affect Philippine and U.S. interests, particularly in the areas of regional security and stability,” Ambassador Gaa added. END