PH to get more training, aid from US with ‘greater access’ plan—envoyBy Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines — Plans to give United States troops access to the country’s bases would pave the way for more joint military
training and greater American military assistance to the Philippines, Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia Jr. said on Monday.
The envoy, who is visiting Manila this month along with Philippine Consuls from the United States, echoed earlier assurances from the government that any base access plan with the Americans would be done within the bounds of the Philippine Constitution.
“We’ve not completed the negotiations. It’s still going on,” Cuisia told reporters at the Department of Foreign Affairs on Monday.
“The VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) [is the] underlying agreement. We won’t go beyond that and we want to assure you that whatever agreement is entered into is going to be in line with the Constitution of the Philippines,” said the envoy.
First made public by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin in June, the prospect of giving the US military greater access to Philippine bases has been discussed in previous bilateral consultations between the two sides.
The United States is the country’s closest defense partner and boosting the relationship is seen by the Philippines as a positive step towards fortifying external defense amid regional security concerns, primarily the Chinese military buildup in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
The American side is meanwhile in the process of a strategic pivot to the Asia Pacific, seen by China as an effort to contain its rise as a regional military power.
“[Y]ou know, we have the bilateral strategic dialogue every year. For the last two years that I’ve been in Washington, we’ve had three dialogues. The fourth is scheduled, and this comes up as part of our discussions, how can we strengthen the alliance between the United States and the Philippines,” Cuisia said.
He said the Philippines would only agree to open the country’s bases to ally access if such would be beneficial to both sides.
“We’ll not go into it if it’s not going to be beneficial to the Philippines. It has to be mutually beneficial to both the US and the Philippines,” said Cuisia.
But he cited upsides to the plan. “It, of course, enhances our capabilities because there’s going to be greater interoperability, so there’s going to be more training, more exercises, and so on,” he said.
“It will definitely contribute to a better training of our Armed Forces—our Navy, our Air Force and so on. We hope to also be able to get more assistance from the US in terms of military security, assistance,” he added.
He would not say which bases would be included in the access plan other than the Subic Bay Freeport, a former US naval base.
The US maintained military bases here until the Philippine Senate elected to oust them in 1992.