From the Daily Tribune (Sep 30): Palace: Gov’t not rushing talks on increased US presence
The government is not rushing the negotiations for the framework agreement on the increased rotational presence of American troops in the country in time for US President Barack Obama’s visit in the Philippines this October, a Malacañang official yesterday said.
“I don’t think we can say that they are being rushed. These discussions have been going on for several months — if I’m not mistaken, over a year now. We are making slow but steady progress on the rotational presence,” Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Rick Carandang stressed.
Obama is set to visit the country on Oct. 11 to 12.
“Whether or not we will sign something during the Obama visit is not something I can answer at this point. What I can assure our countrymen is that these discussions with the US will lead to enhanced security for the Philippines and that’s why we’re entering into these discussions,” he added.
Carandang said the issue of South China Sea affecting the tension between China and the Philippines would not be set aside on the possible discussions with Obama and President Aquino.
“I think this cannot be avoided to be discussed with because that is a part of the context of our action to enhance our maritime security. It’s not just about the territorial disputes with China,” he added.
The Philippines has said it wants the deal concluded before the end of the year.
Manila had hosted tens of thousands of US soldiers at two bases north of Manila, but they were forced to leave in 1992 after the Senate voted to end their lease contracts amid strong anti-American sentiment.
A new agreement that went into force in 1999 allowed US troops to return to the Philippines for joint military exercises involving several thousand members of the US military every year.
US special forces have also been rotating through the southern Philippines since 2002 to help Filipino soldiers against Islamic militants, with the maximum number there at any one time believed to be about 600.
The envisaged deal would see many more exercises, although the Philippines has insisted it will not allow a permanent US presence. This would require a change to the Constitution.
The Philippines has accused China of building its military presence in the South China Sea in recent years.
China claims most of the sea, including waters close to the shores of its neighbors such as the Philippines.
While the United States has insisted it does not take sides in the dispute, it has been seeking to rebuild its military footprint in the Philippines as part of President Barack Obama’s strategic “pivot” to Asia.