AFTER eight rounds of discussion over an eight-month period, the Philippines and the United States (US) have agreed to sign the proposed enhanced defense cooperation between Manila and Washington just in time for today’s arrival of US President Barack Obama in the country.
The agreement will be signed by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador to the Philippines Philipp Goldbert at 10 a.m. today at the AFP Officers’ Club in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
But the defense department, through information officer Prime Berunia, said the contents of the agreement will only be known after the agreement has been signed.
“I don’t know anything about the contents of the agreement,” Berunia said, adding that he could not comment either on its impact on national security.
The RP-US panels concluded their eighth round of talks on April 11, also in Camp Aguinaldo, but did not disclose the details of the agreement.
Philippine panel chair Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino only said that the both parties have agreed on key points of the draft agreement.
“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.
Batino added that consensus on key provisions and modalities were in accordance with the Philippine Constitution and existing laws, which include non-permanence of US troops, no establishment of permanent military presence or base and no bringing in of nuclear weapon.
The draft agreement, which is anchored on mutuality of benefits, states that US 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.”
Batino said the US panel has given its assurances to respect the Philippine Constitution.
The agreement, he added, also include provisions on protection of the environment, human health and safety.
Batino emphasized that the proposed agreement will provide significant benefits to the Philippines, notably critical and timely support to the modernization of the AFP, 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 US military.
“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 Ambassaodr Lourdes Yparraguire, Ambassador J. Eduardo Malaya, Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III and Defense Asistant Secretary for Strategic Assessments Raymund Jose Quilop.