MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang on Sunday justified the forging of a framework agreement with the United States on increasing American troop presence in the Philippines amid a territorial row with China.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the government had been forthcoming on its main reason for negotiating such an agreement with the US—to boost the capabilities of Filipino soldiers.
“The increase, if ever, in the rotational presence would benefit our soldiers because they will have more knowledge and information-sharing when it comes to upgrading our capabilities,” Valte said in an interview over government-run dzRB.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Monday will brief the media on the start of negotiations at the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo.
Both Del Rosario and Gazmin had written leaders of Congress to make a case for an increased rotational presence of American troops, arguing that this would help the country attain a “minimum credible defense” of its territory, according to an Associated Press report.
A larger American presence would translate to more resources and training on disaster response, they also said.
The Philippines and China have been locked in a dispute over some islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
As its military and economic might grew, China has been asserting its claims more aggressively in the sea. The Philippines has brought a case against China before the United Nations.
Three island groups are at the center of the dispute, including the Spratlys, a chain of up to 190 islands, reefs, coral outcrops and banks believed to be sitting atop large deposits of oil and natural gas.
The agreement would be in sync with the US pivot to the Asia-Pacific by allowing the US and other allies access to existing military bases, Gazmin had said earlier.
But Gazmin had been quick to say that any such agreement would have to comply with the Constitution, which prohibits foreign bases, and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Chinese officials criticized the move. In the face of Beijing’s growing might, Washington last year saw the necessity to rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region and deploy 60 percent of the US Navy fleet to the Pacific by 2020.
The Obama administration has helped the Philippines upgrade its military equipment for its own defense while Manila has agreed to allow American troops and ships to rotate through the country under the VFA.
Valte maintained that any new agreement on an increased rotational presence would be forged under the VFA.
“My understanding is that everything will be under the framework of the VFA. So the subject of negotiations would be the modalities on how to implement an increased rotational presence. Let’s wait for several announcements on this,” she said.
The VFA allows American troops into the country on short stays and governs their conduct.