Bases access: PH, US disagree on ‘critical provisions’

Carmela Fonbuena

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The panels have yet to agree on the timeframe. The Philippines wants something shorter that the US' 20-year agreements with other countries.

MORE WORK: Philippine panel head Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino says there are gaps in the positions of the Philippines and the US. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Negotiations to allow American troops increased rotational presence and more access to military bases in the Philippines did not go too well on the fourth round.

There are “gaps” in “criticial provisions” that need “more work,” according to Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, who heads the Philippine panel. 

“We still need to do some work on some critical provisions in order for your panel to make sure this framework agreement will be serving in the utmost way the interest of the country the interest of Philippine government, Department of National Defense, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Batino said in a media briefing after the talks on Thursday, October 3, in Camp Aguinaldo.

Batino gave little detail. “We both have different concerns, different requirements, in internal processes. We cannot dwell too much on the details because I don’t think a discussion of these details in public will be respectful of the negotiation process.”

The panels returned to Manila after holding Round 2 and Round 3 in the US. They have yet to agree on the schedule and venue for Round 5 of the talks. 

5 key provisions

The military-to-military agreement is expected to boost the defense capability of the AFP amid growing territorial threats, increase the training of its troops, and improve disaster response. 

Batino said they have narrowed down the framework agreement to 5 key provisions:

1) scope

2) agreed installations/AFP Facilities

3) prepositioning of defense equipment, supplies, and materiel

4) ownership

5) security 

PH panel needs more time

“While we have narrowed down the discussions to these substantive issues, there are still gaps in our positions. Both panels scrutinized all the proposals that were put on the negotiationg talbe,” said Batino.

The panels have yet to agree on the timeframe of the agreement. Simliar military-to-military agreements between the US and other countries typically last for 20 years. The Philippine panel earlier said it is looking for a “much shorter” timeframe. 

“Sometimes duration is one of the last things you agree on…. Our guidance is that the duration should be such that they cannot build permanent bases,” said Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Carlos Sorreta.

The panel said the Mutual Defense Engagement Board will continue to exist to monitor activities. 

The panel earlier expected to finish the talks after “four to six rounds.” It may take longer.

“We would have to conduct substantial study and examination of the issues. It is also, for me personally,  very opportune that there will be more time to study these things. These are critical isues. Internally, the Philippine panel would need more time to study all of the aspects of these critical issues,” Batino said.

Asked to describe the mood of both panels, Sorreta replied: “The discussions are cordial. Both sides are professional. We don’t slam table or throw water at each other. Both sides want an agreement but both want to make sure they are workable,” he said. – Rappler.com

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