Talks begin on bigger US access

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US-PH SECURITY TALKS Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin (right) and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario support the need for a framework agreement for increased rotational presence of US forces in the country. MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

MANILA, Philippines—“Our region needs to know that we are steadfastly for peace but that we stand ready to tap every resource, to call on every alliance [and] to do what is necessary to defend what is ours,” Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Monday.

Del Rosario made the statement on the eve of the formal negotiations between the United States and the Philippines to increase rotational presence of American forces in the country, widely viewed as a deterrent to China’s territorial aggression in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin jointly announced at Camp Aguinaldo the start of the formal talks at a news conference.

“At the front line of ensuring the security of our people and the territorial integrity of our nation is the profound partnership between diplomacy and defense. We have to strengthen both if we are to secure our people and our nation,” Del Rosario said.

He said “diplomacy and defense will once again intersect to secure our nation—this week we start the negotiations with the United States to institutionalize this policy through a framework agreement.”

The policy that Del Rosario referred to was the result of the Two-Plus-Two Consultations in 2012 between him and Gazmin, and their US counterparts, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Territorial dispute

The Philippines and China have been locked in a territorial dispute over some islands in the West Philippine Sea. The Philippines haled China to a United Nations arbitration court after it sent navy frigates to the Ayungin Shoal in May.

In June, Gazmin said the Philippine government was considering allowing the United States and other allies access to existing military bases amid China’s increasing belligerence.

Last year, China took control of the Scarborough Shoal off Zambales province, which the Philippines says falls within its 322-kilometer (200-mile) exclusive economic zone. China also has demanded that the Philippines pull out of another shoal farther south, near Mischief Reef, which Chinese troops occupied in 1995 amid Manila’s protests.

US pivot

Manila’s desire to bolster its external defense and security has dovetailed with Washington’s intention to pivot away from years of heavy military engagement in the Middle East to Asia, where it has been fostering closer economic and military alliances with countries such as the Philippines, partly as a counterweight to China’s rising clout.

The realignment of American forces in the Asia-Pacific also involves the deployment of up to 2,500 US Marines in northern Australia and the stationing of US combat vessels in Singapore.

Negotiating panels

The Philippine negotiating panel consists of Assistant Foreign Secretary Carlos Sorreta, Assistant Defense Secretary Raymund Jose Quilop, Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino and Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III.

The US panel will be led by Eric John, a former US ambassador to Thailand. John is a senior negotiator for military agreements of the Department of State.

The first round of negotiations will be held at the Department of National Defense (DND) in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

Gazmin said the modalities for the increased rotational presence of US troops would include “high-value and high-impact exercises … which help develop the capability of both armed forces.”

Guiding principles

The negotiations for the framework agreement will be “guided by the principles of strict compliance with the Philippine Constitution, laws and jurisprudence; Philippine sovereignty; nonpermanence of US troops in Philippine territory; nonexclusivity of use of facilities by the US side; and mutuality of benefits,” the defense secretary said.

The Office of the President issued a written authority and parameters for the negotiations, based on the recommendations of Del Rosario and Gazmin, Sorreta said.

“Activities under this proposed agreement will be covered by our Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). The legal basis for increased rotational presence exists in these two agreements. What we will be negotiating will be modalities and the kinds of activities,” Sorreta said.

Transparent

The officials said the negotiations would be transparent, saying media and members of Congress would be briefed after every round.

“We are going to make ourselves reasonably available to media throughout the negotiations. We do ask for your patience and understanding though,” Sorreta said.

“As negotiators, there will be some details that we will have to keep to ourselves momentarily. We will be transparent, but we will not be negotiating through media. In this manner, we hope to maximize our negotiating positions,” he explained.

Sorreta said there could be a minimum of four rounds of negotiations but he would not give a specific time frame, saying every round of negotiation would depend on the last.

The panel did not give a direct answer when asked about the current security assessment on China’s pressing claims of parts of the Philippine territory.

Separate from VFA

But Batino said “all the activities of the DND and the AFP modernization program to attain a minimum credible defense posture and including the forthcoming talks with the US… is to address that concern.”

He said these efforts were meant to “enable the AFP to be able to protect the territory and sovereignty of the country [against all threats].”

The panel, however, appeared quite hard-pressed in explaining to the media why there was a need for a separate framework agreement for this new policy when the VFA was already in place.

Batino said having agreements such as the one to be negotiated by the two countries “build greater momentum to the strengthening of their relationship.

“In this case, both countries would want a strengthening of the alliance … It is a position of the [defense] department that a stronger alliance with the US creates a stronger defense posture for the Philippines,” he said.

Suffice it to say, “there are activities that we can do [and] there are activities that are done better with this agreement,” Sorreta said.

He also said the agreement would not be a basing agreement, contrary to what critics say.

Sorreta said the agreement would likely be between the defense departments of the Philippines and the United States, with the “representatives of those departments” as signatories.

“That’s what we’re working on right now. I caution you that these things that we say now will develop and we will be able to give you more details as it goes on. For example, we will have a working title of the agreement. It’s still difficult to discuss it. It is a negotiation. There is nothing final until the last round,” Sorreta said.—With reports from TJ Burgonio, Cathy Yamsuan and AP

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of INQUIRER.net. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • freedom of navigation

    Keep in mind that we are the ones who is asking for help, therefore it wouldn’t look okay for us to sound like we are setting conditions.

    • IntelligentFund

      This is a mutual relationship sir. We scratch their backs, they scratch ours. It’s a question of how many scratches one will give to the other. But, it does not mean that we cannot set conditions. The back scratching will be done at our home…

      • freedom of navigation

        We should be mindful of being too presumptuous if we think they need us more than we do. To set condition is a no,no. No point in discussing it if we are to set our rules. It should be agreeable to both parties.

      • IntelligentFund

        You are right, it has to be agreeable to both parties. That is the essence of an agreement. However, setting conditions is not a no, no as you said. Conditions can be set by either side. That is also an element of any agreement.

      • freedom of navigation

        That’s the whole point. No point in discussing it with them if we set the rules without them raising objections.

      • BIGButo

        They are also helping us we must also consider that.

      • 33Sam

        LIKE THE WITCH HELPED HANSEL AND GRETEL!!!

      • 33Sam

        AGENDA 21, YOUR PRESIDENT RAMOS SIGNED IN 1997, TOOK AWAY YOUR SOVEREIGNTY. THE PHILIPPINES IS NOW A SUZERAINTY UNDER THE UNITED NATIONS.

        YOUR GOVERNMENT IS LYING TO YOU AND KEEPING THE TRUTH HIDDEN BECAUSE THEY GOT BOUGHT OFF BY BILLIONAIRE GLOBALISTS!!!

        THIS U.S. MILITARY BUILD UP IS A TARGET PAINTED ON YOUR BACKS!!!!

        IF YOU ARE NOT WISE ENOUGH TO SEE THIS THEN YOU GET WHAT YOU DESERVE!!

  • jian_sadako

    ang gusto ko, lahat nung mga bayan muna, kmu, etc. e ideploy sa mga island na inaangkin ng china. hayaan nating sila ang magdefend sa atin. tutal sila naman ang tutol eh, di sila ang ipagsasangga natin sa kanyon ng china.

    • magiting78

      Hahaha asa ka pa maiingay lang yan s kalsada pero pag actual n labanan takbuhan yan..gaya sa mga rally pag sumugod n mga pulis yung mga leader n uunang nag tatakbuhan yung mga hakot ang naiiwan at n aaresto…

  • 12345ME

    may magagawa pa ba tayo kung sakaling mag kagyera? damay pa rin tayo kahit ngayong araw ka pa pinanganak may kalaban ka na. nasa mga leader natin kung etake advantage nila ang pananatili ng US sa bansa natin para palakasin ang bansa natin o tayo ang pagsamantalahan ng mga sarili nating leader.

  • Cue_Vas

    Give them back Subic and Clark, at double the previous rent.
    Never mind the Red protests. They have no credibility with the public at the moment thanks to China’s schoolyard bullying. End of story.

  • magiting78

    Good move Mr Sec…while updating our depense we need a temporary help to depend us…

  • User Guest

    mga tuta/puta ng kano

    • kulkat8

      Ikaw naman ay pulgas/hindutin ng intsik.

  • BIGButo

    It’s time to change the constitution and bring back the American bases!

  • 33Sam

    GLOBALIST DOUBLESPEAK FOR; OK YOU TWO, FLIPPERS AND THE U.S. BAND TOGETHER SO WHEN WE UNLEASH CHINA WE WILL TAKE OUT TWO BIRDS WITH ONE STONE.

    LOOK AT THIS… FLIPPER LEADERS GETTING READY TO ACT LIKE COWARDS BECAUSE THEY WEAR ROBES IN AUTHORITY LIKE A GIRL WEARS A DRESS TO HIDE HER CAMEL TOE!!!

    USELESS FLIPPERS NEVER LEARN FROM PAST HISTORY AND WANT TO REDUCE THEIR NUMBERS BY THE MILLIONS MORE THIS TIME. THEN THE GLOBALISTS WILL TAKE OVER THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS WHILE FLIPPERS BECOME FERTILIZER!!!!

    GET READY TO GENOCIDE YOURSELF FLIPPERS!!!

    HAVE AT IT AND GOOD RIDDANCE, YOU WERE NEVER SMART ENOUGH TO SURVIVE ON THIS PLANET!!!

  • mangtom

    33Sa? Ikaw ba ay witch?

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