The Philippine and United States negotiating panels have started their seventh round of talks on a proposed enhanced defense cooperation leading to a “new model” for mutual ties, confident of hammering out soon a final agreement that is responsive to the evolving defense requirements of both countries amid changing regional security requirements.
In his opening statement, the Philippine panel head, Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, on Monday said the proposal for the increased presence of American forces in the country is in accordance with the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) signed by the Philippines and the US on August 30, 1951.
“We recall that under the Mutual Defense Treaty, our countries are bound to separately and jointly by self-help and mutual aid maintain and develop our individual and collective defense capabilities,” he noted.
But changing regional security needs, Batino said, have posed a challenge to the security cooperation of the two countries.
“Over the past 60, years, this partnership has evolved, and we are challenged to continue to find ways to ensure that our alliance remains responsive to the changing regional security environment,” he added.
“For the Philippines, our internal environment has changed as well, and we need to find a new model for our security engagement. Thus, we are very mindful of the need to make adjustments in the implementation of the MDT, to ensure that our constitutional requirements are fully observed,” Batino said.
He was apparently referring to the territorial dispute between China and the Philippines and other claimant countries to the Spratlys, which is believed to be awash in oil and mineral deposits.
While looking forward to “productive discussions,” Batino expressed hope that “significant progress” will be made during the seventh round of negotiations.
The sixth round of talks was held earlier this month in Washington, D.C.
In this round of negotiations, both panels went through the entire draft agreement and reached consensus on many provisions, including on the proposed accord’s preamble, purpose and scope, definition of terms, ownership of constructed infrastructure, coordination on security, contracting procedures and resolution of disputes.
The two panels have also agreed to allow the use of Philippine military camps by American forces.
Batino, however, said there would be no exclusivity on locations provided to the Americans, which would all be temporary in nature, and that some of them would even be jointly used by both forces.
Jurisdiction on erring American personnel, he added, remains with the US as provided for under the Visiting Forces Agreement.
Batino said that, as in the preceding six rounds, the Philippine panel is guided by the principles of full respect for Philippine sovereignty, non-permanence of US troops and no US basing in the Philippines, mutuality of benefits and respect for the Philippine Constitution, including the prohibition against nuclear weapons.