Bipartisan US bill seeks $2.5 billion for Philippines defense

By Thomson Reuters Apr 10, 2024 | 5:35 PM

By David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – On the eve of a trilateral summit between the United States, Japan and the Philippines, two prominent U.S. senators on Wednesday introduced a bipartisan bill to provide Manila with $2.5 billion to boost its defenses against Chinese pressure.

The bill, put forward by Republican Bill Hagerty, a former ambassador to Japan, and Democrat Tim Kaine, authorizes $500 million a year in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grant assistance to the Philippines over the five fiscal years to 2029.

The Philippines, a long term ally of the United States, has become increasingly important strategically in U.S. and Japanese efforts to push back against China and has been in need of funding to modernize its long-neglected armed forces.

The bill requires the U.S. secretary of state, in coordination with the Pentagon, to submit an annual spending plan to Congress on how the U.S. government would spend the grant and an annual report on steps taken to enhance the U.S.-Philippines defense relationship.

The latter would include a description of the capabilities needed to modernize Philippine defense capabilities.

Areas could include coastal defense, long-range fires, integrated air defenses, maritime security, manned and unmanned aerial systems, mechanized ground mobility vehicles, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and defensive cybersecurity, Hagerty’s office said.

In a statement shared with Reuters, Hagerty said it was “critical” to deepen cooperation with the Philippines at a time of “Communist China’s growing aggression in the West Philippines Sea and South China Sea.”

Kaine echoed this, saying it was “pivotal that the people of the Philippines have the resources and support they need in the face of those threats.”

The Philippines and China have had a series of maritime run-ins, including an incident in March when China used water cannons to disrupt a Philippine supply mission to soldiers stationed on a grounded warship in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal.

Hagerty said the funds would “profoundly strengthen and modernize the defense and deterrence capabilities” of the U.S.-Philippines alliance.

On Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden will hold a bilateral meeting with Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos, and the two will join Japanese Prime Minister Kishida for a trilateral summit expected to focus on countering Chinese pressure on the Philippines in the disputed South China Sea.

In 2022, the United States said it was making $100 million in FMF available to the Philippines, underscoring greatly improved defense ties between the treaty allies under Marcos, whose predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, had sought warmer ties with China.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Don Durfee and Sonali Paul)