The disaster wreaked by Typhoon Yolanda highlights the need for a framework agreement that would allow an increase in US military presence on Philippine soil, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Monday.
In a press conference with the US congressional delegation headed by Representatives Chris Smith of New Jersey, Al Green of Texas and Trent Franks of Arizona, del Rosario gave them a heads up on the relief and rescue operations led by the US military in the typhoon-affected areas.
“I think this demonstrates the need for this framework agreement that we are working out with the United States for increased rotational presence because it accentuates the purpose, one of the purposes, the main purpose of the framework which is to make humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and response a very major aspect of the agreement,” del Rosario said.
The congressional delegation is in the country to further express the sympathies of the American people, to check the relief operations and to find what else is needed in terms of emergency relief, rehabilitation and rebuilding.
Smith expressed his desire for the “strongest possible bond” between the Philippine and the US military.
“I think in a paradoxical way, the storm has brought all of us even closer together. We realized the jewel of the friendship and we must preserve it at all cost,” he said.
Not only are the military ties between the two countries important, but other aspects of the relationship as well such as economic, the Trans-Pacific Partnership “and all other ongoing negotiations will be given a positive boost as a direct result of this.”
It is vital that both countries take every opportunity, even a disaster like Yolanda, to bring its military ties closer together, Green said.
Negotiations for the US increased rotational presence in the Philippines, an integral part of the Obama administration’s repivot to Asia policy after winding down its campaign against terrorism in the Middle East, hit a snag days before Yolanda flattened parts of Leyte and Samar provinces.
This was confirmed by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin about two days before the storm struck on November 8.
Gazmin said the impasse occurred because the US failed to “clearly agree” to Philippine control over and access to the temporary US facilities that will be set up in the country once the framework agreement takes effect.
H said negotiations would make sure these issues are all ironed out before the agreement is signed.
The “major idea” would be for the Philippines to have full benefits of the framework agreement, Gazmin added.
The deadlock in the negotiations happened as rising concerns about the constitutionality of the agreement surfaced. Some sectors said the move may open up the possibility of Washington reestablishing bases in the country.
Article XVIII, Section 25 of the Constitution states that “foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”
The framework agreement could also reinforce the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement.
The treaty was the primary buffer of the Philippines against what was believed to be China’s aggressive stance in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The agreement compels both countries to come to each other’s aid in case of an external attack.
Washington is reaching out to its former allies in the Asia Pacific–the Philippines, Japan and South Korea–as well as to new ones.
It has already stationed troops in Singapore and Australia.
BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON