• Discussions on framework for increased US rotational presence starts

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    FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Monday assured that the Philippine Constitution will be “respected” and the interests of the Philippine government and its people will be “preserved and promoted” during the start of the negotiations on the increase rotational presence of United States military in the country.

    The secretary, in his speech before Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and members of the Philippine negotiating panel, highlighted the need to strengthen both diplomacy and defense.

    “I say this as, at the frontlines of ensuring the security of our people and the territorial integrity of our nation. This week, diplomacy and defense will once again intersect to secure our nation,” del Rosario, the former Philippine Ambassador to the United States, said.

    “This week will mark the start of our negotiations with the United States to institutionalize this policy of increased rotational presence through a framework agreement,” he added.

    During the second bilateral strategic dialogue and the 2+2 meeting between the United States and the Philippines in January and March last year, the agreement to increase Washington’s rotational presence in the Philippines was finalized. This was furthered during the third bilateral strategic dialogue in Manila in November 2012.

    The framework for this agreement, the secretary assured, will be respectful of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

    The United States also has similar agreements with Singapore and Australia as it continues to reconnect with its allies in the Asia Pacific region following US President Barack Obama’s repivot to Asia.

    Through the increased rotational presence, del Rosario said the Philippines can modernize its army even before the necessary purchase of defense system is made, enhance deterrence of crimes before modernization, boost maritime security and maritime domain awareness before ships and aircrafts are acquired, educate personnel on how to use and maintain military hardware before having them and improve the timely response to humanitarian and disaster relief in the region.

    At the sidelines of the celebration for the 46th founding anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) last week, del Rosario said the parameters and modalities have to be defined before US and Japanese troops are allowed access to former military bases in the country, particularly the one in Subic Bay in Zambales province.

    Also, del Rosario and Gazmin advised the Congress on the start of the negotiations for the increased rotational presence of US troops, who are allowed under the 1999 VFA. Some 500 to 600 American soldiers routinely hold balikatan exercises in southern Mindanao since 2002 to train and provide intelligence information to Filipino soldiers with regards to containing rebel groups in the region.

    US navy ships have also made routine port calls to the Philippines annually.

    Del Rosario said the Philippine negotiators are required to regularly update the public on the negotiations between the Philippine and US governments.

    “Our people need to know that our laws are observed and our interests are protected at all times,” he said.

    “Our region would also need to know that we are steadfastly for peace; but that we stand ready to tap every resource, to call on every alliance, to do what is necessary in order to defend what is ours, to secure our nation and to keep our people safe,” the Foreign Affairs chief added.

    The US repivot to Asia came after a decade of its preoccupation in the war against terror campaign in the Middle East after the bombing of the World Trade Center in September 2001.

    The policy was also effected amid China’s massive military and economic growth that threatened the global superpower. Beijing has earlier accused Washington of trying to contain them in the region.

    Amid its own maritime disputes with China, the Philippines sought the protection and the support of its only treaty ally—the United States. Under the 1951 MDT, Washington is required to aid Manila in modernizing its military capabilities.

    Since 2011, Manila has acquired two decommissioned US Coast Guard Hamilton-class cutters, which were renamed BRP Gregorio del Pilar and BRP Ramon Alcaraz.

    The vessels are the country’s two largest warships, which are expected to help patrol Manila’s maritime borders.

    China claims virtually the entire West Philippine Sea under the nine-dash line while the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam claim parts of the resource-rich waters and islands.

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