Malacanang on Thursday assured that the country’s interests are protected in the negotiations for the agreement that will allow the increased presence of American troops in the Philippines.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the talks on the finalization of the framework agreement for the increased rotational presence of US troops in the country will be built on existing agreements.
“The current negotiations will build upon existing agreements such as the Mutual Defense Treaty and Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA),” Coloma told reporters.
“As these agreements have been in existence for a number of years, both countries are aware of the challenges in implementation. Hence, both panels will consider how to frame the proposed agreement in such a way that those challenges will be addressed adequately,” he added.
The Philippines had an issue over the jurisdiction of US troops in the country particularly on the VFA.
But Coloma said the country should learn from experience and will not allow a one-sided agreement favoring the US.
The good thing is that negotiators are relying on the baseline—the existing agreements and they are not starting from scratch, he said.
The increased US presence comes at a time when the Philippines is in the middle of a deepening territorial dispute with China over the resource-rich waters and islands of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Once approved and signed, the agreement will pave the way for more US troops to visit the country and intensify the joint military exercises between Washington and Manila. The US will also regain access to former naval bases in Subic, Pampanga, as well as other military facilities.
The agreement will also allow the United States to build military structures in the country, which would have to be turned over to the Philippines after the agreement expires.
Such an agreement usually lasts 20 years, but the Philippines is said to be looking at a shorter time frame.
CATHERINE S. VALENTE