By Manuel Mogato
MANILA (Reuters) - The United States will nearly triple its military funding for the Philippines this year, the Philippine foreign ministry said on Thursday, as tensions rise with China over disputed islands and Washington bolsters its alliance with Manila.
However, the Philippines expressed concern over what it said was a sharp decline in its share of U.S. foreign military financing (FMF) despite Manila's central role in the U.S.'s military "pivot" back to Asia.
Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario said the Philippines accounted for over 70 percent of total FMF allocation for East Asia in 2006, compared to 35 percent this year.
"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 FMF allocation," del Rosario said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, according to a foreign ministry statement.
Del Rosario was in Washington for the first "two-plus-two" dialogue among their foreign and defense secretaries as they look at ways to deepen ties and help Manila build a "minimum credible defense posture".
Washington agreed to provide $30 million in FMF this year, up from an initial 2012 allocation of $15 million and from $11.9 million last year. In 2003, funding amounted to $50 million as Washington sent forces to help the Philippines battle al Qaeda-linked militants.
The Philippines is offering the United States greater access to its airfields and may open new areas for U.S. soldiers to use as it seeks stronger military ties with its ally and faces rising tensions with China in the maritime dispute.
The United States also agreed at the meeting to share "real-time" data on the South China Sea, suggesting it will give Manila more of its surveillance data on naval activity. The State Department also promised to explore "creative funding streams" to help the Philippine military.
Del Rosario, who previously served as Manila's ambassador to Washington, also urged the U.S. to lift conditions on a portion of FMF allocation for the Philippines.
Since 2008, the United States has withheld the release of about $3 million in military financing for the Philippines due to political killings and human rights abuses.
He said the current government of President Benigno Aquino has already taken significant steps to end these killings and has improved human rights conditions.
Since 2002, the Philippines has received nearly $500 million in military aid from the United States, according to the U.S. embassy in Manila. The amount does not include the transfer of 20 reconditioned helicopters, a Cyclone-class ship and a Hamilton-class cutter.
A second Hamilton-class cutter will be transferred later this month and the two sides are discussing the possibility of a third Hamilton-class ship and a squadron of second-hand F-16 fighters.
(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Stuart Grudgings and Jeremy Laurence)