THE United States wants to use Philippine bases for extended periods of up to 20 years, a Manila official said on Saturday as the two sides are in talks on a wider US military footprint in Asia.
The negotiations aim to allow more US troops, ships, aircraft and other equipment to pass through the Philippines, which had hosted thousands of US troops until 1992.
“For the Americans, they typically have agreements like these that have a duration of 20 years. Right now, the Philippine delegation is looking at a much shorter duration,” Carlos Sorreta, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary, said. However, he did not give any specific time frame for the Philippine counter-proposal, adding that the “substantive issue of duration” would be “subject to further discussion”.
In a press statement, Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino said the US and Philippines agreed that joint exercises and activities under a framework agreement will require the latter’s approval. Likewise, the agreement should be mutually beneficial to the individual and collective defense capabilities of the two countries, in accordance with the Mutual Defense Treaty.
“Both the Philippines and the US panels share the understanding that the American troops will not establish a permanent military presence in our country. That was clear during the discussion,” Batino said.
Reportedly, the negotiators agreed that facilities used for prepositioning remain the property of the Philippines, that Philippines maintains the primary responsibility and authority in matters of security, and that any prepositioning or activities will not violate Philippine environmental laws.
Sorreta added that the Philippines and the US were able to flesh out some details on humanitarian aid and disaster relief, including discussions on how training, equipment and material for maritime domain awareness would be used.
Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares expressed his alarm over the negotiations held at the US Department of Defense in Pentagon.
“Why are the talks being held in the Pentagon and not here in Manila? It is the US government that is asking for a favor so the talks should be held here in Manila. Is it because they are browbeating Filipino negotiators? What is happening is not a negotiation; Philippine officials are getting instructions from US Defense officials on what they want and how [they should]explain it to the wary Filipino people,” said the solon.
Colmenares said that another probable reason why the talks are being held in Washington is that both parties are afraid of protest rallies of groups opposing the agreement.
“The US government is trying to hide in the technicality that they would not set up a permanent military base but would only have increased rotational presence. But as it is, US troops will always be in the country on a war footing and they can use any of our military bases to attack other countries. This agreement would definitely put our country on the radar of US enemies and place our countrymen in harm’s way,” he added.
Philippine officials have said that an increased US presence was part of Manila’s efforts to build a credible defense posture as it faces territorial disputes at sea with China. The United States, on the other hand, seeks to bolster its ties across Southeast Asia, partly to counter China’s growing military power.
AFP With Reports From Anthony Vargas And Francis Earl Cueto