The negotiating panels of the Philippines and the United States (US) working on an enhanced defense cooperation agreement on Friday approved a draft of the pact, hammered out at the end of the eighth round of talks between the two sides.
The agreement is being rushed in time for the visit of US President Barack Obama on April 28.
The two sides have found consensus on key points of the draft.
Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, who heads the Philippine panel, described the latest round of discussions as “very productive.”
He cited consensus on key provisions and modalities that would reflect, among others, full respect for Philippine sovereignty, non-permanence of US troops, no military basing by the US in the Philippines and a prohibition against weapons of mass destruction.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd earlier instructed the Philippine panel to comply with and stay within relevant provisions of the Philippine Constitution and laws.
The draft agreement, which is anchored on mutuality of benefits, states that United States access to and use of Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) facilities and areas will be “at the invitation of the Philippines and with full respect for the Philippine Constitution and Philippine laws.”
In addition, in compliance with the Philippine Constitution, the agreement will also state the understanding of both sides for the United States “not to establish a permanent military presence or base in the territory of the Philippines.”
Batino said the US has agreed that any equipment and matériel that the US military may bring into the country “shall not include nuclear weapons.”
The agreement will have robust provisions on protection of the environment, human health and safety.
“This round brought us much closer to finding full consensus, and the draft provisions on key points of an enhanced defense cooperation will be submitted to the President for his review,” Batino said.
A member of the Philippine panel, Ambassador Lourdes Yparraguirre, pointed out that the Philippine-US alliance ”continues to be and must remain relevant” and that in the framework of a dynamic and changing regional architecture” and “our only option is to make our alliance stronger if we are to maintain international and regional security.”
Saying the agreement is “a step toward realizing that objective,” Yparraguirre said “as we strive to further enhance our security cooperation, we are looking into new dimensions of significant strategic and operational value.”
She cited potential economic benefits from the agreement resulting from multiplier effects of joint activities under it.
Batino said the proposed agreement would provide significant benefits to the Philippines, notably critical and timely support to the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, achievement of the country’s minimum credible defense posture, more expeditious humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), and the provision of jobs and other economic opportunities through the local goods and supplies procurement that will be made by the United States military.
“Both the Philippines and the United States recognize these are valuable dimensions to this updated framework of cooperation, and we are working together for the realization of the full potentials of this closer defense partnership,” Yparraguirre said.
Highlighting the “maturing relations” between the two allies, she said the agreement being negotiated contemplates a “new model of security engagement” for both the Philippines and the United States.
“After 15 years of the Visiting Forces Agreement and given current realities, challenges and opportunities, the Philippines is ready for a heightened level of defense cooperation. This agreement, which should stand on mutual trust, is an idea whose time has come,” Batino stressed.
The other members of the Philippine negotiating panel are Ambassador J. Eduardo Malaya, Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan 3rd and Raymund Jose Quilop, defense assistant secretary for strategic assessments.