US boosts military support to Philippines

Manila will receive $30 million in foreign military funding from the the United States this year, according to Reuters.

That amount is nearly three times the $11.9 million in military funds Washington pledged to the Philippines in 2011. 

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The Pentagon had initially set aside $15 million in fiscal 2012 to help finance ongoing counterterrorism efforts by the Filipino military against radical Muslim groups in the southern part of the country. 

But the White House opted to double that amount during a series of bilateral talks between Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDems seeing big increase in midterm House candidates When it comes to Israel, Trump’s first 100 days were one big fail Democratic leaders hurt their own party by ousting pro-life voters MORE and Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario and Secretary of National Defense Voltaire Gazmin in Washington this week. 

The talks were the first time the heads of the U.S. and Filipino military and diplomatic corps have come together to discuss current challenges in the region. 

The sudden increase in military support to the Philippines should not be interpreted as Washington playing favorites in an increasingly important part of the world, Del Rosario said Wednesday. 

"We hope this is not indicative of the priority placed on the Philippines as a regional partner, as even non-treaty allies appear to be getting a bigger share of the [military finding] allocation," he said during a speech at the Heritage Foundation. 

However, indications from the Pentagon and the White House have been clear they plan to increase their presence in the Asian nation, as part of the administration's ongoing national security strategy shift from the Middle East to the Pacific. 

A U.S. special-operations task force has been stationed in the region since 2001, supporting Filipino forces in their ongoing campaign against the terror group Abu Sayyaf, the main Muslim extremist group in the southern Philippines, with ties to al Qaeda. 

This month, the Navy is also planning a four-month humanitarian operation in the region known as the Pacific Partnership mission. The Navy's hospital ship USS Mercy will make port calls in the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Hundreds of Marines are also expected to flood into the Philippines in the coming years as part of the service’s growing focus on the region, Assistant Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford said last month. 

Recently, DOD officials agreed to relocate 9,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam and other outposts in the Pacific. It remains unclear whether those displaced Marines will end up on Filipino soil.

The last two permanent U.S. military installations in the Philippines were the Clark Air Force base and the naval base in Subic Bay. American forces pulled out from both bases in 1991 and 1992, respectively.