US access not yet a done deal
MANILA, Philippines—The agreement on the increased “rotational presence” of United States troops in the country has yet to be worked out and is not a “done deal,” Malacañang said on Tuesday.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the “finer details” of the agreement would be the subject of negotiations between the two governments that are to begin Wednesday in Manila.
Valte said that the agreement, which would allow US access to their former military bases in the Philippines, was not separate from the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
The agreement would, in essence, spell out the “modalities” by which US troops would access their former bases in the country, she said.
On Monday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin announced the start of negotiations with the United States on a formal agreement on expanded US access to Philippine military bases, a move that has been criticized by those long opposed to US military presence here.
Del Rosario said the talks would include discussions on “modalities and parameters” within which US troops would be allowed greater “rotational presence” in the Philippines under existing bilateral agreements and in compliance with Philippine law, particularly the Constitution.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reiterated this on Tuesday, saying the bounds of the agreement had already been defined with very clear parameters—“respect for the Philippine Constitution, the laws and jurisprudence, the preservation of Philippine sovereignty, the nonpermanence of US troops and nonexclusivity of use of facilities by US side and the mutuality of benefits.”
The Philippine move to ally itself closer with the United States is viewed as a deterrent to China’s increasingly aggressive stance with regard to disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
In the face of Beijing’s growing assertiveness, the United States last year began “rebalancing” toward the Asia-Pacific, announcing its intention of deploying 60 percent of the US Navy’s fleet to the Pacific by 2020.
The Obama administration has begun helping the Philippines upgrade its military equipment while the Philippines agreed to allow US troops and ships to “rotate” through the country under the VFA.
Valte said the goal behind the agreement was for the Philippines to build a “minimum credible defense,” and said the Philippines was “after high-impact and high-value exercises that will benefit both sides.”
She said it was too early to say whether the agreement would lead to the stationing of US troops in Luzon.
“We have already been explicit that it would be done … under and following the 1987 Constitution,” she said.
Senate leaders on Tuesday said the country should get the best deal out of the plan to increase the presence of US military forces.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said the Senate will not get in the way of the negotiations but would examine the implementation of whatever will come out of the discussions.
“We will allow them to do the work. We will not stand in the way. It’s a factual issue, whatever will come out of their discussions. That’s their responsibility,” Drilon said.
However, if in the implementation of the agreement, there is a provision on basing rights, that would be another thing, he said.
“A military base is prohibited if we don’t have a treaty,” Drilon said.
So far, there is still no clear indication from the President whether the increased military presence would necessitate basing facilities, he said.
The Senate is the body that ratifies all treaties entered into with other countries. An agreement on increased US “rotational” military presence, if it does not include basing rights, would not need a treaty and Senate concurrence.—With reports from Norman Bordadora and Tarra Quismundo