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 Home > News & Policies > October 2003

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 18, 2003

Background Briefing by a Senior Administration Official on the President's Visit to the Philippines

October 18, 2003




Westin Philippine Plaza Manila

Manila, Philippines

5:40 P.M. (Local)

MR. McCORMACK: Good evening, everybody. We have a senior administration official here tonight to give you a background briefing on the President's meetings today here in Manila, and a look ahead to his state visit to Thailand and the other events that he'll have tomorrow. Let me turn it over to the briefer.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good evening. It's good to see all you folks here. I hope you're -- hello? Okay. I assume you're all just about over your jetlag and are going to ask a bunch of very penetrating questions. So I'll keep my opening remarks fairly short.

As you saw from the President's speech, if any of you had a chance to look at it on television, this stop here in Manila really is about expressing support for the Philippines democracy, and appreciation for the Philippines support in the war on terrorism, the active role that the Philippines is playing.

In that connection, during their bilateral meetings today, the President not only expressed support for President Arroyo's leadership in the war on terrorism, he also got a fairly good briefing from her as to how things are going in the regional struggle.

It's important to note, though, that the Philippines, in our view, has a broader vision. And President Arroyo made it clear that she has supported the efforts in Iraq, and was, indeed, one of the first to support the efforts in Iraq, because of her view that terrorism is a global problem that has to be addressed to be addressed by a coalition of the willing.

The meeting -- the bilateral meetings with President Arroyo and her Cabinet lasted for about 55 minutes. They touched on security issues, economic issues. As I sort of previewed a little bit yesterday, one of the central pieces was a discussion of what we call the Joint Defense Assessment and the military reforms that are going to flow from that.

President Arroyo and her government have endorsed a five-year plan of military reform to get the -- to improve the efficiency and to modernize the Philippine military. President Bush said that we will do what we can to assist with that effort.

They also discussed some very specific issues -- as I was asked yesterday -- did the question of helicopters come up? It did, indeed. As you will recall the President had committed to providing some 20 helicopters. He assured her that we are going to refurbish them and that we're going to get them on the way.

On the economic side, there was a lot of discussion about where the world goes post-Cancun. The Filipinos stressed that they wanted to see ASEAN playing a vigorous role -- excuse me -- APEC playing a vigorous role as we try to move forward in the post-Cancun world.

Finally, just a brief preview. Tomorrow we go to Bangkok. Tomorrow's main event, of course, is the state visit to Thailand. That will include a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister talks in the morning, and then in the evening a call on the King and Queen, followed by a state dinner. There will also be a bilateral meeting with President Hu Jintao of China. And finally, there will also be a review of Thai troops who are coming back from Afghanistan.

So, with that, I will leave it open to questions.

Q A couple questions. What is the U.S. prepared to do other than the helicopters on the issue of military reform? I know that those are more designated to the war on terror. And what did Thailand do specifically or even generally to deserve the status as a major non-NATO ally?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, let me write this down. I'm suffering from jetlag. Thailand, MNNA, and the first part of your question again was?

Q What are we prepared to do to aid in the five-year military reform --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. This is -- the five-year military package here in the Philippines is going to be primarily a Filipino effort. President Arroyo has said that she will seek the necessary fundings from her Congress to make sure that they do the hardware bit of it. A lot of what we're going to be doing is going to be the software, in terms of providing the technical assistance and the expertise to help them implement the vigorous program of reform.

We have committed to come up with money. For example, to bring in these experts, to provide the training. But in the joint effort part of it, it's almost best to look at it as the Filipinos saying, hey, look, we need to update our thinking in terms of what we need in terms of hardware, and we, the United States, committing to providing the technical advice, the assistance, to make that hardware work, and to advise how they need to update their system such as personnel acquisitions and stuff like that.

And on Thailand -- okay, you had a two-fer -- if you look at the Thai record over the past six months -- excuse me -- since 9/11 the Thais have been very good allies. They've been good allies all along -- this is a long and deep alliance that we've had with Thailand. Some of us remember the Vietnam era; more recently the Thais were instrumental as we surged our people out to Afghanistan for OEF, and providing all sorts of very quiet assistance that we don't talk about too publicly, but was there.

They also -- like I said, we're going to be visiting forces who have returned from Afghanistan, where they've done very good work building airports and doing a lot of civilian construction. This is a construction company that has just come back from there.

Yes, the Thais are a very good ally. And they have done good work within their means. We work with them on a whole range of areas including counter-narcotics. There are a very deserving ally.

Q -- with MNNA -- there is an agreement between Burma and Cambodia --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It helps -- it definitely helps having a good ally in the region. MNNA is a very specific legal designation that really has more to do with how we can treat them in terms of provision of spare military equipment and stuff like that. It's a technical term. What's important is that we have a strong and vital alliance with Thailand, and we've had that for years.

Q Just to follow up on the five-year plan. Can you give us any -- did Arroyo give you any specific numbers on how much the Filipinos are going to put down in terms of money? And how much is the U.S. prepared to provide in terms of money for that training, like you were describing?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are -- the numbers are still in flux. We have had preliminary discussions with the Filipino government. They do have sources of funding available. They have been planning to modernize their military for a number of years. They've put funds in escrow that they haven't used. They're planning on using a good portion of those funds for this effort. So we've looked at costs, and it's going to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars and we do expect the Filipinos to provide the bulk of those. And they -- this is their effort, frankly, and we expect that.

Q Hundreds of millions of dollars is how much? It's the five years for them, and then you're going to provide money. The hundreds of millions is not U.S.-contribution, right?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. The hundreds of millions is what we hope to see from the Filipinos. And, of course, it's subject to the approval of their Congress, just like it is on our side.

Q What would be coming from the U.S. --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We don't have a final number yet. We're still talking numbers with the Filipinos. And, frankly, part of it is going to depend on both sides seeing good progress towards mutual goals.

Q At one point in the speech, the President drew some explicit comparisons between what he's attempting in Iraq and what happened in the Philippines, starting a hundred years ago. Can you talk a little bit about his thinking on this? Because we haven't heard him use that comparison before.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Could you spell that comparison out a little further?

Q The spot in the speech where he describes how the Philippines has become a model for democracy in Asia and people did not believe that Asia could have democracies. I've heard him talk before about some other ones. But as you said in your own briefing yesterday, this is one that's had its fair bit of troubles in recent times.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the point the President -- as you said, a point the President makes regularly is that democracy does work in different environments with different sorts of peoples, with different sorts of historical backgrounds. The Philippines has had a commitment to democracy for a long time. It has had a rocky history, and the fascinating part is that it keeps on coming back to democracy; that despite the sort of siren songs of strong men -- there's a lot of S's there -- in the siren songs of strong men, the people of the Philippines realize that democracy is the best way to guarantee their rights and to develop their country.

You see that in other countries. Those of us who can remember 25, 30 years ago can remember a Latin America that was basically all dictatorships. Now it's -- now that part of the world has gone towards democracy. Asia is a good example. Again, mid 1980s, who would have said that you would have had a belt of democracies that not only was Japan, but from South Korea through the Philippine, through Taiwan, Thailand.

He looks at that and he's encouraged by that trend. And he also says that this sort of refutes the naysayers who are saying that, well, there's an Asian mentality that only wants a strong man. Or in this case, as he's mentioned with respect to the Middle East, that for some reason, Arab cultures and the Muslim mind is inimicable to democracy. He's saying that's baloney, and that the examples in Asia including the Philippines prove that that's right.

Q Yes, I want to just run by the contributions once more. Philippines, over five years, expected to raise their defense spending by hundreds of millions -- do I have that right?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, they're supposed to contribute. Like I said, they actually have a lot of funds in escrow already.

Q And the U.S. amount is undetermined?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Undetermined, but it will be -- we will provide funds.

Q And the choppers? We are giving them 20 choppers?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, that's already done, basically, except that we do have to find the funding to refurbish -- finish refurbishing. But that's a separate project that -- it sort of ties in, but it's a separate project.

Q You said the U.S. contribution largely would be the, what you called, software.


Q Give us some examples of that. I know it's technical assistance, but what does that mean?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. For example, you look at -- look at the Philippines military, and it's got questions of, how do they organize their personnel system. Right now they don't keep their commanders in place for very long. How do they recruit their people? These are things where we can help and we can advise them, and we can put people in to work with them and come up with some suggestions as to how they implement that, which they want to do.

Acquisitions is another field. Again, I'm not an acquisition expert, but people tell me that they could use a little bit of reform and a little bit of modernizing the way they do things. Again, the problem here is -- I'm not a military guy -- but it's basically how you actually run the systems within the military and make that military as efficient as possible.

Q Could you set up the Hu meeting a little bit? And did President Bush announce the five-year plan today, or did Arroyo announce it earlier and the President reiterated it in the speech?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Basically we did it -- she did it first, at the end of the first part of the bilateral meeting she spoke to the media and announced that she was going ahead with it. And then the President did mention it in the speech of course, too.

With respect to the meeting with President Hu, there's a lot to talk about. There always is when we get together with the Chinese. But given events in East Asia, there will be a big emphasis on North Korea, of course. We have basically an hour set aside for the meeting. Both Presidents look forward to it. This will be the second meeting between the two of them with Hu Jintao as President. They, of course, met a third time back in Washington when Hu Jintao was still Vice President. So they're getting to know each other, and they're getting to work together. The President attaches a tremendous amount of importance to the role that China can play in seeking a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue. And he sees them as playing a constructive role so far, and he wants to make sure that we consult with them closely and encourage that.

Q Anything specific on what the President would like to see on North Korea coming in or coming out of this meeting?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, not specifically out of this meeting, but, of course, the desire is that we do see another productive round of six-party talks. We want to see six-party talks that really do move towards a resolution of the issue.

Q If you could -- if we haven't sorted out the funding yet on the 20 helicopters, what does it mean that Bush assured her that we are going to refurbish them and that we're going to get them on their way? How can you get it to them if you haven't sorted out the funding issue yet?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You sound like you haven't worked in the U.S. government. (Laughter.) Where there is a will, you can usually find the way, and there will usually be little pockets of money that you can find and have access to. And I've found, usually, believe it or not, that when the President wants something done, it gets done, after a while.

Q But yet, in the briefing yesterday you were talking at the end of the next fiscal year. So is that timetable moved forward or --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't have a specific timetable. I said, I would hope that it would be done by the end of this next fiscal year, and I mean basically the current fiscal year, because we just started one, of course. But it is a question of finding the funds. And we'll do our best and I'm sure we'll find them.

Q -- you're supplying 20 helicopters?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, 20 out of inventory that we need to refurbish.

Q These are old helicopters that you're retiring anyway?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, these are UH-1, old Hueys, yes.

Q Thank you.

END 5:50 P.M. (Local)