Philippines, UK to sign new defense agreement

Paterno Esmaquel II
Philippines, UK to sign new defense agreement
British Ambassador Asif Ahmad says the South China Sea dispute – 'plus more' – prompted the two countries to expand a previous deal

MANILA, Philippines – The United Kingdom on Monday, January 18, said it is crafting a new defense agreement with the Philippines that could, among other things, allow British troops to train their counterparts here. 

In a roundtable discussion with reporters, British Ambassador to the Philippines Asif Ahmad said the Philippines and the UK have an existing defense agreement. Still, both parties “want to establish a new one” before the end of 2016. 

He said the expanded agreement can be expected “well before October.”

Asked if British troops could train their counterparts in the Philippines, Ahmad said, “That is part of the discussion that is actually taking place.”

He added: “I wouldn’t describe them as British troops coming here, because that sounds a bit emotive. I would say British expertise coming here. Two hundred fifty-one years ago, when we sent British troops here, they liked it so much, they stayed.” 

The British ambassador, however, said this agreement is not a forerunner of a Visiting Forces Agreement, like the controversial VFA between the Philippines and the United States that the Philippine Senate ratified in 1998. (READ: Scrap VFA? It’s part of PH ‘defense strategy’)

“I don’t think so,” Ahmad said. “I think, basically, it codifies what we’re already doing and some of the ambitions that we have. I don’t think it translates into something more than that.” 

In particular, he said, the Philippines and the UK want to incorporate the lessons they learned during Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in November 2013.

South China Sea row a factor?

Yolanda, considered as the strongest typhoon in history, killed more than 6,300 people mostly in central Philippines. 

The UK is one of the countries that helped the Philippines the most after Yolanda. (READ: British royal Princess Anne visits Yolanda survivors)

Ahmad said that when Yolanda struck, however, much of the cooperation between the Philippines and the UK “was done very informally – when we picked up the phone saying, ‘Can we do this?’”

“We don’t have too many written protocols as to how this is done. And we want to regularize that,” Ahmad said. 

The ambassador was also asked if the Philippines and the UK decided to revise their defense agreement because of the dispute between Manila and Beijing over the South China Sea, and the threat of terrorism, among other things.

Ahmad said: “It’s sort of all of the above, but plus more. What has happened is, the old one was so lacking in ambition that it really allowed us very little scope to do anything.”

On the South China Sea, the ambassador also stressed the need for diplomacy.

“I always say that if you’re starting to talk in terms of military intervention, then diplomacy has failed. It’s the tool of last resort,” he said. – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.