Sunday, March 9, 2014

PH presents to US 'full draft text' of military bases access deal

From Rappler (Mar 9): PH presents to US 'full draft text' of military bases access deal

The Philippine panel negotiating a new military-to-military agreement with the US has presented to the Americans a "full draft text" a month before the scheduled visit of US President Barack Obama to Manila.

"The Philippine side presented a full draft text which more comprehensively articulated the Philippines’ positions which are consistent with the Philippine Constitution and relevant laws as well as informed by the country’s historical experiences," according to a statement of the Department of National Defense (DND) on Sunday, March 9.

The draft text was presented during Round 5 of talks in January following a shake-up in the Philippine panel. (READ: Problems in the PH-US bases access deal?)

The statement said the 2 panels have since made progress in the following areas: preamble, purpose and scope, definition of terms, ownership of constructed infrastructure, coordination of security, contracting procedures, and resolution of disputes.

New title: Enhanced Defense Cooperation

The title of the draft agreement was also revised from "Increased Rotational Presence" (IRP) to "Enhanced Defense Cooperation."

"The proposed agreement will allow the sharing of defined areas within certain AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) facilities with elements of the US military on a rotational basis within parameters consistent with the Philippine Constitution and laws," said the DND statement.

There is no word if the 2 panels have settled contentious issues such as the access of Filipino troops to facilities that the US will build in Philippine bases and the length of time the American troops will be given "temporary" access to the bases. (READ: PH to press 'equal access' to US facilities in bases deal and PH, US haggling over length of stay of troops)

Typical military agreements between the US and another country last for 20 years. The Philippine panel earlier said it is looking for a "much shorter" timeframe.

Philippine panel chairman Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino said: "This fresh round has clearly shown the shared commitment of both parties to enhance cooperation in defense, security and related fields, including humanitarian assistance and disaster response. The further exchanges of views have helped pave the way for the formulation of mutually agreeable language.”

The US supposedly agreed to the "inclusion of provisions on environment and safety, and opportunities for potential Philippine suppliers of goods, products and services."

Obama's visit

Inspite of statements that the agreement will not be rushed, talk is rife that its signing will happen during Obama's visit in April. Both panels are scheduled to hold another round of talks in late March in Manila. (READ: PH won't rush defense accord for Obama visit)

In a recent interview with journalists, US ambassador Philip Goldberg said: "We want to conclude the agreement as soon as we can. There are still some details to work out. We have made progress in the agreement. We want to conclude it as quickly as possible. I won't set the date."

Batino earlier told Rappler that the deal is intended to be an executive agreement that will not need Senate ratification. Goldberg however has said this issue is what both sides will continue to tackle.

"Those are issues that, as [Armed Forces chief] General Emmanuel bautista said, are part of the negotiation. Let me just remind that we have a Mutual Defense Treaty. We have a Visiting Forces Agreement. We currently have these agreements for cooperation. Regardless of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation, we have a very strong military to military relationship. We have ongoing exercises and humanitarian assistance," Goldberg said.

The Philippines has sought the assistance of the US, a treaty ally, against the backdrop of rising tension with China over maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Tension continues to escalate as the Philippines accused the Chinese Coast Guard of using water cannons against Filipino fishermen in January in an attempt to drive them away from the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough). (READ: PH protests China 'water cannon' incident)

The shoal that is located within the country's 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone has been practically occupied by the Chinese Coast Guard following a tense standoff in 2012 when the Philippines withdrew its ships.

China is making its claim based on a 9-dash-line map, which the US categorically said it does not recognize. The Philipines has a pending arbitration case before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). (READ: What's at stake in our case vs China)

The Philippines is also acquiring critical assets to improve minimum credible defense in the West Philippine Sea.

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