PH, US start talks on bases access Wednesday

Carmela Fonbuena
New agreement will allow increased rotational presence of US troops in PH, and boost maritime security

NEGOTIATIONS BEGIN. Philippine Foreign Affairs Sec Albert Del Rosario and Defense Sec Voltaire Gazmin in a press conference in Manila, 12 August 2013. Photo by Rappler/Carmela Fonbuena

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines and the US will begin on Wednesday, August 14, negotiations on a new agreement that will allow increased rotational presence of US troops in the Philippines and boost maritime security. 

“Maritime security and maritime domain awareness will be given a boost even before we have ships and aircraft we need. And even before we have the advanced and sophisticated hardware  we wish for, we will know how to operate and maintain them,” said Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.

The Philippine and the US have agreed to conduct “high-value and high impact exercises as modality for increased rotational presence considering that exercises are regularly held between our forces,” explained Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

This means more bilateral exercises, “prepositioning of equipment, and development of Philippine facilities, Gazmin added.

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) is finalizing plans to purchase 12 fighter aircraft from Korea. On top of the two Hamilton-class cutters from the U.S. and the naval helicopters that will arrive in December, the Philippine Navy is also planning to acquire 2 new frigates and possibly a third Hamilton-class cutter. 

Constitutionality issues

Amid rising tension with China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), the government announced in June the plan to give U.S., and eventually Japan, wider access to Philippine military bases. 

Various camps expressed concern that the plan would violate the Constitution

READ: [Asia Pacific Bulletin] PH’s security cooperation with US, Japan 

READ: US only riding on PH-China dispute – Bayan

The government gave assurances the new agreement will not violate the Constitution or existing laws. They will be guided by the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), according to panel member foreign affairs undersecretary Carlos Sorreta.

Before the Philippine Senate junked in 1991 the RP-US Bases Treaty, the US had tens of thousands of troops in the Philippines. The 1987 Constitution bans permanent foreign bases in the Philippines. 

The succeeding Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) allowed temporary presence of foreign troops in the Philippines. 

The new agreement is meant to be an executive agreement that will not require the approval of the Philippine Senate. Nevertheless, the executive department has written Congress to inform the legislative chambers of the planned talks. 

4 rounds of talks

The Philippine panel members are:

  • Department of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Carlos Sorreta
  • Department of National Defense Undersecretary for Legal and Legislative Affairs and Strategic Concerns Pio Lorenzo Batino
  • Department of National Defense Assistant Secretary Raymund Jose Quilop
  • Department of Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III

Sorreta assured they will follow the following parameters: respect for Philippine Constitution, laws, jurisprudence, preservation of Philippine sovereignty, non-permanence of U.S. troops, non-exclusivity of use of facilities by the US side, and mutuality of benefits. 

READ: ‘Give Australia, ASEAN access to PH bases’

It will take at least 4 rounds of negotiations before the agreement will be completed, said Sorreta.  —