MANILA, Philippines – Militant groups were back at the gates of Camp Aguinaldo on Monday, March 24, to protest ongoing negotiations for a military deal that will increase the number of American troops in the Philippines and give them access to military bases.
The activists are angrier as the panels are set to complete the talks purportedly in time for the visit of US President Barack Obama in April. They threw paintball bombs at the wall of the military’s main headquarters, which soldiers immediately washed away with water hoses.
Inside Camp Aguinaldo, members of the Philippines and US panels met for the 7th round of talks. Both sides are stuck on the legality of a deal that they intend to be a mere executive agreement signed by Cabinet Secretaries.
Senator Miriam Santiago, chairperson of the Senate foreign relations committee, argued it would need Senate approval. (READ: Miriam: PH, US military deal needs Senate OK)
Treaty or not?
Both Philippine panel chairman Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino and US panel chairman Ambassador Eric John stressed that the agreement will be a mere implementation of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). Signed in 1951, it’s an agreement which states that the two countries shall separately and jointly develop capacity to resist an armed attack.
John said: “The guiding principle of the negotiations is to enhance the effectiveness that we have through the implementation of this agreement of the long-standing Mutual Defense Treaty. I think that we’ve seen over the last many decades the effectiveness of the MDT, but an agreement like this also proves the vibrancy of the MDT. It’s something that can be strengthened through further implementing steps that we’re taking here with this agreement.”
Batino explained that the agreement they are negotiating is meant to “make adjustments in the implementation of the MDT, to ensure that our constitutional requirements are fully observed.”
The Philippine panel has always intended the bases access deal to be an executive agreement. It was the US panel that initially raised concerns because they feared its legality would be questioned. But the Americans are apparently satisfied with the explanation of the Aquino government.
The government sought US assistance to develop “minimum credible defense” in the wake of the agressiveness of China in the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea). The request coincides with the US strategy to rebalance to the Pacific. While the Philippines is more concerned with defense cooperation, the US has been vocal about its economic interests in the region.
Santiago explained that the bases access deal cannot be considered an implementation of the MDT.
“I think they will argue the prior treaty is a Mutual Defense Treaty and they are just carrying out the details, but I will argue to the contrary. Posting the war powers, the war equipment of a foreign sovereign state in our territory is not a minor case of detail. It is a major subject in itself. It cannot be classified as an executive agreement but as a treaty to which the Philippine Senate must give its concurrence,” the senator told reporters on March 14.
The “temporary” basing will have a duration of less than 20 years. The US will be allowed to construct facilities inside Philippine military bases, which can only be accessed by designated Philippine authorities. (READ details of the agreements here.)
Trapped between 2 bullies
The militant groups said the bases access deal is a “de facto basing agreement for US troops.” They are also asking government to release to the public the draft it submitted to the US. (READ: PH presents to US ‘full draft text’ of military bases access deal)
Despite the strong US statements against China’s aggressiveness, Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said “the US will not engage China in armed conflict.”
“This is something Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin refuses to understand. They see the US as saviors versus China when in fact the US has far greater economic interests in China than the Philippines. The US will not engage China in armed conflict,” Reyes said.
“The Aquino regime is trying to sell the line that we need US bases to counter the threat of China. Aquino is telling the people we need to welcome the bigger bully to fend off another bully. This line of thinking does not serve national interest and only places us at even greater disadvantage,” he added.
Reyes said they are preparing for an internationally coordinated protest with anti-bases activists from Japan, South Korea, Guam. – Rappler.com