AN official of the Catholic Church and several lawmakers on Wednesday cautioned the government against making hasty decisions regarding allowing temporary basing rights to foreign troops, particularly from the United States and Japan.
Bishop emeritus Deogracias I?iguez, Public Affairs committee chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said the Church will definitely contest the plan to grant foreign forces access to Philippine bases if they perceived that the country is slowly being “colonized.”
“The Church will enter the frame if it involves moral issues such as foreign colonialism, imperialism. If that happens, we will certainly talk because that is a moral violation of us being a sovereign nation,” I?iguez said.
“We must make sure that this will not result to us being held by the neck,” he added.
The prelate appealed to the government to thoroughly study the agreement before making any decision.
“We have to study this very well if it will be beneficial to our country or not,” Iñiguez said.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin earlier said the country is studying giving the United States and Japan access to Philippine bases through an official agreement.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd backed the proposal but assured that the settlement would be temporary and necessary to familiarize foreign troops with the Philippine terrain.
Some senators said the matter should be studied first.
Sen. Jose Victor “JV” Ejercito Estrada said that while he sees no problem with the plan, there is a need to clearly define the limits of the access.
“We also need the commitment of these countries. We have to make sure that they would help us on our external conflicts,” Ejercito Estrada noted.
He said the Philippines already saw the extent of the commitment of the US government to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) at the height of the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China over Panatag (Scarborough) shoal last year.
Ejercito Estrada said the country was practically left alone by its foreign partners to face the Chinese “bullying.”
“We have to get the commitment of the US for example, to fulfill their obligation to help its little brother,” he said.
Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th said that getting the support of Manila’s allies is always welcome but it should be within the confines of the VFA.
Even the VFA, he said, needs to be amended in order to make it more responsive to the needs of the country.
As for temporary access, Aquino said it should be clearly defined because temporary access could mean “one year, two years and even 25 years.”
“I think when we voted the bases out in the 90s that was a good decision. And we should stick to that, “ he said.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara Jr. also raised similar concerns, noting that details of the supposed plan should be laid out first to determine the extent of each country’s involvement.
“Our Constitution says we must have an independent foreign policy so you must balance that with the needs of your defense imperatives,” he noted.