MANILA, Philippines – US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said the US is not asking for permanent bases in the Philippines.
“US does not seek permanent bases in the Philippines. It is an outdated cold war mentality,” Hagel said in a press conference in Malacañang on Friday, August 30. “We are using a new model of military to military cooperation,” he added.
Hagel paid a courtesy call on President Benigno Aquino III Friday morning. He described their brief meeting, where they discussed military cooperation, as “productive.”
Manila and Washington are negotiating a new military agreement that will allow increased rotational presence of US troops and give them wider access to Philippine military bases. It happens against the backdrop of tension between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The US and Philippine panels are currently in the US for their second round of talks. “This progress is welcome and encouraging. Our negotiation teams are working hard to finish the agreement,” Hagel said.
“I think the fact is that the minimum credible defense approach that the Philippines is gearing to take is one we agree with,” Hagel said.
Hagel stressed common interests between the US and the Philippines especially with Washington’s pivot to Asia.
A new deal is necessary, he said, because “threats change and dynamics change.”
“I think you add all that up. It is incorporated in the framework that we are working on now,” Hagel said.
Hagel concludes in Manila his week-long Southeast Asian trip that is meant to stress Washington’s strategic “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific.
He earlier met with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and his defense counterparts in the two countries to discuss military cooperation against the backdrop of security issues in the West Philippine Sea.
From Jakarta, Hagel went to Brunei on Wednesday, August 27, for the ASEAN Defense Ministers (ADMM) annual retreat. He participated in the ADMM-Plus meeting.
Circumventing the law?
In Manila, Hagel reiterated US support to the peaceful resolution of the conflict in the South China Sea. “There are common interests that we have,” Hagel said. He mentioned economic, security, disaster response, and humanitarian interests.
“In the meantime, we encourage nations to peacefully manage disputes,” he said. “The US appreciates Philippine efforts to solve conflict through peaceful means,” he added.
The new mlitary agreement between Manila and Washington has been criticized as a ploy to circumvent constitutional ban on permanent bases in the Philippines. The new deal is meant to be an executive agreement between the US and Philippine Department of National Defense. The government said this does not require Senate ratification.
“We are increasing ability to train and operate together…. We support Aquino’s defense modernization agenda,” he added. He said it is an arrangement similar to what the US has with Singapore and Australia.
Philippines Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the panels are discussing how Subic and “other military facilities” will be made accessible to US forces.
“As soon as the framework is complete, we will provide necessary activities,” Gazmin said. “It’s not only Subic but other military facilities, if necessary,” Gazmin added.
In Davao City, Bayan Muna Rep Carlos Zarate slammed the visit of Hagel, saying that it was meant to pressure the Philippine government to hasten the signing of the military agreement.
“US Secretary Defense Hagel and President Aquino are ramming the access agreement down our throats,” said Zarate.
The Mindanaoan lawmaker said the meeting undermines efforts of the Senate and Congress to review the constitutionality of the agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and “gloss over protests against the increased and permanent presence of US soldiers in the country.” – with a report from Karlos Manlupig in Davao City/Rappler.com