DISCUSSIONS between the Philippines and the United States on the proposed framework agreement on enhanced defense cooperation and increased rotational presence of American troops in the country hit an impasse over disagreements on some provisions.
“There were issues that they wanted which we don’t like. There were also issues that we wanted which they also rejected,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said on Wednesday.
Gazmin admitted that disagreements happen during the negotiation stage. He expressed confidence that members of the two panels will soon come to an understanding when they sit down again for the next round of discussion.
Among the substantive issues which need to be ironed out is the Philippine’s demand of full access to all American facilities that will be stationed in the country.
Gazmin said that what the local panel wanted is equal access for both sides.
“Everything should be beneficial to the Philippines, that is the major idea,” the defense chief stressed.
During their fourth round of talks at the Department of National Defense in Camp Aguinald last month, the Philippine panel head, Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzon Batino, said that they achieved significant progress on the agreement’s title, preamble, Article 1 (purpose), Article 2 (definitions), Article 3 (scope), Article 4 (agreed installations/AFP facilities), Article 5 (implementing arrangements), Article 6 (preposition of defense equipment, supplies, and materiel), Article 7 (ownership), Article 8 (security), Article 9 (procedure), Article 12 (resolution of dispute) and Article 13 (entry into force duration, termination and amendment).
However, Batino said, “more focused discussions” were made on Articles 2, 4, 6, 7 and 8.
Also included in the discussion was the possibility of putting in place a mechanism for regular bilateral consultations to ensure the effective implementation of the framework agreement.
The two panels started their talks last August.
During the initial meeting, the American panel agreed to respect the country’s sovereignty, non-permanence of US troops, full Philippine control and authority over facilities and respect for the constitutional prohibition against nuclear weapons.
Both parties also affirmed their commitments to the United Nations charter and the 1951 Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), which binds the two countries to support each other if either of them were to be attacked by another country.
They also agreed that any activity that may result from an agreement that they may conclude would be covered by the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which the Philippine Senate ratified on May 27, 1999.
The framework agreement is expected to boost the defense capability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines amid growing territorial threats, increase training of its troops and improve disaster response.