Talks on expanding US military presence still on—Del Rosario
Next month’s high-level talks between the Philippines and the United States on expanding Washington’s military presence in the country will push through as planned contrary to some reports, according to Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.
Del Rosario on Monday told the Philippine Daily Inquirer the meeting was “still tentatively scheduled for March,” adding that “I have not heard otherwise.”
Citing informed diplomatic sources, another Manila newspaper reported over the weekend that the talks may have to be postponed until the Aquino administration came up with specific proposals on where to base US warships and spy planes on a rotating schedule.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had supposedly wanted “substantive deliverables” ironed out before the high-level conference, said the report.
The report further said that finding a mutually convenient time when the principals—Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the US side and Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin for the Philippines—could get together was proving difficult.
A Manila-based news radio station aired the same report.
On Monday, President Benigno Aquino III said his administration was talking to the US about enhancing the Philippines’ defense capabilities and no country should see this as a kind of offensive against them.
“There are no ongoing negotiations per se, but there are ongoing dialogues,” Mr. Aquino told reporters on the sidelines of the 110th anniversary celebration of the Bureau of Customs.
The President said there was no need for China to be concerned.
“Should it be a concern for China? No. We stress that what we want to do is to be able to meet our needs,” he said, citing the need to protect the Philippines’ 36,000 nautical miles of coastline.
He said the country’s bid was “nothing of an offensive capability but to enhance our abilities to protect our ecology, to be able to respond to national, natural disasters or even isolated natural disasters.”
Asked whether the result of the ongoing dialogue with the US would result in amendments to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Mr. Aquino said the talks will “always have to conform to the Constitution and to all the pertinent laws.”
“We are not envisioning a need for any constitutional change at the present time,” the President said.
Earlier, Manila and Washington issued a joint statement following the close on January 27 of their second bilateral strategic dialogue in the US capital, where they looked forward to “continuing our high-level consultation at a joint ministerial meeting” in March among Del Rosario, Gazmin, Clinton and Panetta.
The two sides also highlighted “upcoming opportunities for further high-level engagements, including a visit by US Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro to the Philippines in February.”
During their January 26-27 dialogue, the two allies reaffirmed their “commitment to fulfill the vision of the 2011 Manila Declaration through an invigorated and expanded alliance capable of addressing 21st century challenges.”
They referred to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty as the “basis for the alliance and the treaty’s continued relevance to the peace, security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific.”
They “committed to further enhance cooperation in security, defense, commerce, law enforcement, human rights and disaster relief,” as they also “agreed to deepen and broaden our maritime security cooperation.”
Also on January 27, Del Rosario said the Philippines would accept an increased US military presence in the country, but emphasized that this would be in accordance with Philippine laws which ban the basing of foreign troops.
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