PH to press 'equal access' to US facilities in bases deal

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines will press the United States to give Filipino troops "equal access" to temporary facilities that it will be allowed to build in our military bases, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told reporters on Thursday, December 5.

Negotiating panels of the two countries resumed talks earlier this week in the US, drafting a military-to-military agreement that will allow American troops increased rotational presence and more access to military bases in the Philippines. 

During a difficult round in October, access and security issues were sticky points that the two sides couldn't resolve. (READ: PH, US resume bases access talks after impasse)

Gazmin said he is confident that the US will agree to the condition of the Philippines. "We've instructed our panel to negotiate in accordance with our Constitution. There will be no permanent bases. The Constitution also provides that it should be beneficial to both countries," Gazmin explained. 

Gazmin is not expecting that the panels can finish the talks soon. "It's still a long way to go. We're still in the language. You know if you're talking to lawyers, it will take a long time. They will discuss commas and they have to agree on the adjectives," Gazmin said. 

The negotiations also resume after the US military's swift response to the Philippines' call for help after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) killed thousands and flattened towns and cities in the Visayas. Its effect on the negotiations remains to be seen.

US Ambassador to Manila Philip Goldberg has been repeatedly highlighting the benefits of US troops presence to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. "As everyone saw, the first stage in disaster relief is often the military. Then, we move to the civilian," Goldberg told reporters in the Senate on Thursday, in a joint press conference with Senate President Franklin Drilon. 

The Philippines sought the assistance of the US in the wake of China's aggressiveness in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which coincides with the US "pivot to Asia."

Beyond the US, the Philippines continues to closely coordinating with allies in the region. (READ: PH 'closely coordinating' with allies amid tensions)

Japanese defense minister Itsunori Onodera will arrive in the Philippines on Saturday, December 7, to meet with Gazmin at a time when China is stirring up regional tensions with its air defense identification zone (ADIZ) policy. 

China wants foreign aircraft to provide a flight plan if they want to fly over the disputed area. (READ: Japan cites 'cooperation' with PH amid China tension and Japan vows to help PH amid China sea row)

Gazmin said the country supports Japan in declaring that the air defense zone is inconsistent with international flight safety rules but downplayed fears that China will expand it to the West Philippines Sea.

"It's speculative at this point. We cannot react if they're not doing anything," Gazmin said. "It will alarm us if they will do that," he added. — Rappler.com