Hagel to meet with Aquino on US troops

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05:05 AM August 25th, 2013

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By: Nikko Dizon, August 25th, 2013 05:05 AM

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. AP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is scheduled to meet with President Benigno Aquino III this week to discuss the current negotiations for the framework agreement on the increased rotational presence of American soldiers in the Philippines, the US Department of Defense said Friday.

Hagel will also be meeting with his counterpart, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.

The framework agreement that would pave the way for more US troops coming to the Philippines and giving them access to military facilities is largely viewed as a deterrent to China’s increasing presence in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).

The Philippines and China continue to be locked in a territorial dispute, particularly in the Panatag Shoal off Zambales and the Ayungin Shoal in the Kalayaan island group or Spratlys.

According to the Department of Defense statement released Friday, Hagel will talk to President Aquino, Gazmin and Del Rosario “about ongoing negotiations for a framework agreement that would allow US forces to operate in Philippine military bases and in Philippine territory and waters to help build the Philippine armed forces’ capacity in maritime security and maritime domain awareness.”

Hagel is in Honolulu, Hawaii, his first stop on a weeklong, four-nation tour of the Southeast Asian region where he would be attending the Asean Defense Ministers Meeting Plus in Brunei.

Hagel will be in Manila on Aug. 29 and 30.

Two weeks ago, the Philippines and the United States began the negotiations for the framework agreement on the increased rotational presence of US soldiers in the Philippines, where the Americans can have access to the military facilities of the country.

The framework, however, would not include the operational details so as not to compromise national security, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had said.

Philippine negotiators have explained that having a framework agreement was necessary as military activities are not specified in the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

The DFA has explained the need for an increased rotational presence of US troops to have “a minimum credible defense posture… to enhance maritime domain awareness and develop a deterrence capability.”

“This can be accomplished through high-impact and high-value joint exercises which promote interoperability and capacity building that will also bolster humanitarian assistance and disaster response,” it said.

The Philippine government has stressed that its new defense policy was not for a basing agreement for the US military which the Constitution prohibits.

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