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MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine panel negotiating an agreement with the US is ready to submit to President Benigno Aquino III a draft of their agreement following the conclusion of the 8th round of talks on Friday, April 11.
“This round brought us much closer to finding full consensus, and the draft provisions on key points of an enhanced defense cooperation will be submitted to the President for his review,” said panel chairman Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino.
Batino said the Philippines is “ready for a heigtened level of defense cooperation.” The agreement titled Enhanced Defense Cooperation (EDC) is meant to allow the increased presence of American troops in the Philippines, give them more access to military bases, and allow them to build facilities inside the bases, among others.
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Philippine Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr said he is looking forward to its possible signing during the visit of US President Barack Obama in late April. (READ: Obama to visit PH April 28)
“I’m hopeful that there will be a conclusion before the visit of President Obama,” Cuisia told reporters in Manila. “This agreement will enable us to build a minimum credible defense posture. It’s not just training but hopefully we can get more equipment in the future,” he added.
De facto bases?
Talks began in August 2012 upon the request of the Philippines, which is counting on US help to respond to the growing tension in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). Batino said the agreement “would provide significant benefits to the Philippines” in modernizing the military, attaining minimum credible defense posture, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR).
Amid criticism that the deal would allow American “de facto basing” in the Philippines, the panels maintain that it is a temporary agreement that is effective for less than 20 years. Details of the draft agreement have not been shared but panel members have earlier divulged details.
The talks hit an impasse last year when the US wanted to limit the access of Filipino troops to facilities they are going to build here. Based on the results of the 7th round of talks, “Philippine authorities” will now be allowed access. (READ: Bases access: US grants PH access to facilities)
The facilities will be built by the US upon “the invitation of the Philippines and with full respect for the Philippine Constitution and Philippine laws,” according to the statement of the panel.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago earlier argued that the agreement will need Senate ratification. The panel maintains it is only an implementation of existing treaties with the US – Mutual Defense Treaty and Visiting Forces Agreement. (READ: Militants storm camp to protest US-PH talks)
“The United States has agreed that any equipment and materiél that the US military may bring into the country “shall not include nuclear weapons,” the statement added.
Aside from Batino, the other members of the Philippine panel are Ambassador Lourdes Yparraguirre, Ambassador J. Eduardo Malaya, Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III and DND Assistant Secretary for Strategic Assessments Raymund Jose Quilop.
In 1991, the Philippine Senate rejected a treaty that would have extended the stay of American troops in US military bases here. This ended American military presence in the country and shut down the key US bases in Clark in Pampanga and Subic in Zambales. – Rappler.com