MANILA, Philippines—Plans to give US forces greater access to Philippine military bases are still under study and will only be carried out with deference to the Philippine Constitution and the country’s laws, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Monday.
As talk of expanded US access to the country’s military facilities invited concern from several sectors, DFA spokesman Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez assured the public that “whatever policies we are able to negotiate with the US should be mutually beneficial for both.”
The DFA official added that the Philippine and US sides were still working out the plan under existing provisions of the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty.
“I understand that [Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin] has stated that we are examining modalities for the increased rotational presence of US forces in the Philippines. We continue to talk and refine with the US the parameters of this rotational presence,” Hernandez said in a press briefing on Monday.
He said that US forces, which ran permanent bases in the Philippines until 1991, would only be granted access to Philippine military facilities if the arrangement would benefit both sides.
“The Philippines will only allow the use of its facilities provided [that] it is mutually beneficial for both parties and in accordance with the Philippine Constitution and our laws,” Hernandez said.
“(The plan) is under examination and both parties continue to talk about these modalities and the parameters of this possible policy, but what is very important is that whatever policies that we are able to negotiate with the US should be mutually beneficial for both,” he added.
The Philippines and the United States, its foremost defense ally, have long been in talks of expanding the rotational presence of US forces in the country as part of America’s strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific.
Currently, the Philippines receives routine port visits by US ships and engages in military and disaster preparedness exercises with the US military.
Talk of greater military access for US forces became stronger as the Philippines beefed up its military in the face of security concerns over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), disputed territories currently seeing a “massive military buildup” by the Chinese, according to Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.
While pushing for a peaceful resolution of its maritime dispute with China, the Philippines has also expressed its resolve to “defend what is ours,” the DFA head said.
Meanwhile, in Olongapo City, Zambales, fishermen and their supporters from militant groups staged a rally on Monday to protest the ongoing Philippine-US military exercises, saying the United States would get the country in trouble with China.
“Having foreign navy vessels doing live fire drills in our backyard makes us feel unsafe. By allowing them [to enter] our territory when tensions with our neighbors, like China, are high, the Aquino administration is putting our people’s welfare under unnecessary risk,” Rufina Arcega, spokesperson of the groups, said in a statement.
In a telephone interview, Arcega said at least 50 fisherfolk and members of the Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya joined the rally aboard boats in Masinloc town.
6 US warships
Arcega said the groups were protesting the presence of six American warships in the area, including the US Navy’s guided missile destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, and the holding of the annual joint military exercise, the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Carat).
The Carat exercises are ending Tuesday.
“We should remember the lessons of the past. We do not need friends like the US who would use our country as a pawn to advance its containment strategy (against) its rivals like China,” the statement said.
“Our government has to muster the necessary political will to sever the ties that continue to bind the Philippines in an unequal relationship with the US,” the statement added.
Arcega said the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement would drag the country into a protracted conflict against the US’ rivals, like China, in the Asia-Pacific region.
She said the United States was “using Philippine territory to project its military might to its enemies.”
“The Filipino people will be caught in the conflict in case China responds to the provocations of the US,” Arcega said.—With a report from Robert Gonzaga, Inquirer Central Luzon