MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – The Philippines and the United States will sign on Monday, April 28, a military deal that will give American troops wider access to military bases here, a Rappler source confirmed.
This comes as US President Barack Obama is set to arrive in Manila Monday, for the final leg of his Asian tour.
Details of the agreement, called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation, have yet to be released. It will be signed at 10 am in Camp Aguinaldo.
Evan Medeiros, senior director for Asian Affairs on the National Security Council, said the deal was a “skeletal and muscular” framework that would allow the two sides to discuss rotations of US troops, naval visits and training exercises.
He said the deal was “the most significant agreement that we have concluded with the Philippines in decades.”
The “scope, duration and location” of US forces in Philippines remained to be worked out “in the coming weeks and years,” Medeiros said.
But US officials said the agreement would last for 10 years, with provision for renewal. They said it would be signed by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US ambassador to Manila Philip Goldberg.
Against the backdrop of ongoing tensions between the Philippines and China over disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), the Philippines has sought the military assistance of US, a treaty ally. (READ:Obama visit to give ‘clearer understanding’ of PH-US alliance)
‘Not because of China’
Medeiros, however, dismissed the notion that Washington saw the agreement through a prism of containing China’s rising military might.
“We are not doing this because of China. We are doing this because we have a longstanding alliance partner. They are interested in stepping up our military-to-military” interaction, he said.
Defense would be on top of the agenda during Obama’s visit, Malacañang earlier said.
While details of the pact have yet to be released, the Philippine panel earlier said it would allow more US troops, aircraft, and ships to pass through the Philippines.
It would also allow the United States to store equipment that could be used to mobilize American forces faster – particularly in cases of natural disasters.
Former lawmakers who voted to remove US bases in the Philippines in 1991 have criticized the lack of transparency in the negotiatons.
Other critics have slammed the military deal as a “de facto basing agreement disguised as an access pact” but Philippine negotiators have stressed it would not allow the US to establish a permanent base or bring in nuclear weapons.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago earlier questioned the constitutionality of the agreement, saying it should have been approved by the Senate.
But Malacañang insisted the agreement was temporary and only implemented the general provisions of the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement, and therefore did not need Senate concurrence. – Agence France-Presse, with a report from Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler.com
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