President Gloria Arroyo yesterday welcomed the US decision to nearly double the foreign military assistance to the Philippines for 2005.

She said the US gesture "was a vote of confidence" for her administration's implementation of reforms in the military.

The decision of the US Senate committee on appropriations to increase military aid comes at a time when the Philippine military is under intense criticism after two of its top ranking officials, Army Maj Gen Carlos Garcia and Lt Col George Rabusa, were detained in connection with allegations that they were involved in siphoning off armed forces funds.

Arroyo said the planned increase in US military aid to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) from $30 million (Dhs110 million) to $55 million (Dhs 202 million) was a strong indication of the maturing relations between the Philippines and the US despite the strain caused by her decision to withdraw the country's 51-member peacekeeping contingent in Iraq to save the life of truck driver Angelo de la Cruz.

The Philippines is heavily dependent on the US for its defence hardware and training of its 70,000-strong armed forces.

"I think our partnership with our allies on the war against terrorism, regardless of whether some of the details are correct or not in the policies of our allies... has brought us a lot of capability to upgrade our own military and defence forces in winning our battles here," Arroyo said.

The president was referring in particular to the Philippine Defence Reforms drawn up in her Medium Term Development Plan, which the Department of National Defence (DND) and the AFP will implement over the next six years.

Last week, the AFP accepted the delivery of 30 UH-1H helicopters from the US as part of the pledge made by US President George W. Bush that the US would donate 30 helicopters to the Philippines. Bush made this pledge during Arroyo's state visit to Washington in May 2003.