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Govt eyes forces pact with Japan

To allow Japanese troops join military exercises The Philippines and Japan have agreed to study the possibility of pursuing a status of forces agreement that could enable Japanese troops to participate in joint military exercises here, the Defense Department said Friday. “The details still need to be firmed up. Right now we are at the level of forming the technical working groups,” said Defense spokesman Peter Galvez. Galvez said such a military agreement was broached during a meeting between Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and his Japanese counterpart, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera. Under the government’s 2010-2016 National Security Policy, the Aquino administration will purse a “larger border security” program to ensure territorial sovereignty and defense. National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia said it is “desirable” to pursue other status of forces agreements with neighboring countries and other allies instead of relying heavily on the Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States. The Mutual Defense Treaty paved the way for the Visiting Forces Agreement, which governs joint military exercises of Philippines and American troops in the country. The Philippines currently has a status of forces agreement with Australia. In December 2006, then President Gloria Arroyo directed the Defense department to be more active in drawing up similar agreements with other neighboring countries after Washington temporarily suspended joint military exercises. The suspension was seen as a move to pressure the Philippine government into turning over the custody of convicted rapist Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, a participant to the Balikatan in 2005, to the US. The Balikatan eventually resumed after Smith was transferred to the US embassy in Manila. The Palace said China, which has conflicting territorial claims with the Philippines, should not see a proposal to give rights to American troops to use military bases in the country as an aggressive action. Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte also assured the public that whatever access agreement is reached with the United States will be in accordance with the Constitution and the Visiting Forces Agreement. She said the proposal was part of an agreement to increase the “rotational presence” of American forces in the country. Asked if the proposed access rights would result in more incursions from China, the Palace official pointedly said that it was none of China’s business. “At this point, whatever that we do within our territory is perfectly within our rights to do. Other countries must respect that,” Valte said. On Thursday, Gazmin clarified that the proposed access agreement is not equivalent to basing rights. Gazmin said other defense allies of the Philippines can also be given access to military bases. China, reacting to reports of the planned access agreement, has warned that countries with territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea which look for help from third parties will find their efforts “futile.” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the strategy was a “path of confrontation” and it would be “doomed.” But Gazmin on Friday said the Philippines needs allies to defend itself against the China. “You know at this point we cannot stand with our own feet; we need allies. If we will not do this we will always be at the mercy of big powers. What is happening is that China is already here, they are already on our territory. We cannot just attack them. We had already run after them before a court but look they will not leave us. So, what are we going to do now? Shall we wait they will come further and enter our doorsteps? They are already inside our garage,” Gazmin said. Gazmin’s remarks came as leftist lawmakers slammed the government for negotiating anew with the United States government for its forces to have greater access into military facilities in the country. The government is also exploring a similar agreement with Japan. Gazmin brushed aside Chinese warnings. “Well that is their right, their prerogative to say such a statement but you know we have to protect ourselves too. In the process of building up our defense we should be able to collaborate with other countries so that we become stronger, we become united,” he said. After Beijing rejected a series of diplomatic protests by Manila over its relentless intrusions into Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea, President Benigno Aquino III ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs to bring the case for arbitration before an international court, which triggered more aggressiveness on the part of China. At present, China has roped off and is building structures in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. China also intruded into Ayungin Reef, part of the municipality of Kalayaan Island Group in Palawan. The Philippine Marines have troops stationed in the area. Gazmin also explained that the possible “access agreement” for American forces would be in accordance to the Visiting Forces Agreement, which needs the approval of the Senate. “Of course, it should pass Congress approval. Right now, our legal luminaries are carefully studying it,” he said. Gazmin said such an agreement could include introducing “new military technology” from US. The Defense chief also said the agreement was part of a US agreement to increase the presence of its forces in the Asia Pacific. He also said that with the expected increase in joint military exercises, the US would need access to bases here in Subic and Lumbia Airport so they could temporarily park their planes from Okinawa or Guam or Hawaii while the exercises were ongoing. Gazmin said a similar agreement can be forged with Japan, which he described as a “strategic ally.” He said, however, that without a visiting forces agreement, Japanese troops wouldn’t be able to enter or be stationed here. “We might hold an exercise with Japan but they wouldn’t be able to disembark. Our technical working group will explore this and come up with a mechanism,” Gazmin said. Leftist lawmakers on Friday accused Aquino of insulting Filipino war veterans and comfort women by allowing Japan to gain greater access to Philippine military bases and facilities. They also said it was a shameful act of national betrayal if President Aquino overturned the 1991 historic verdict of the people and the Philippine Senate against the US bases by turning the country’s bases and facilities into American military outposts. They demanded that the Department of National Defense divulge the details of the access agreement that will give open access to US troops and other foreign forces to Philippine territories. “These so called access arrangements are so vague that it appears to expand the Visiting Forces Agreement. The Aquino government is allowing an undetermined number of US military troops as well as Japanese forces to stay and make use of an unidentified and undetermined number of Philippine facilities for an undetermined period of time. These are de facto military bases,” Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said. “Japan’s military presence in the Philippines is not only unwanted, it is also unwelcome. This is an insult to our veterans and comfort women who suffered under the Japanese,” said Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlo Zarate in a statement. “While we should strongly assert our territorial integrity against China’s bullying, basing the US and Japanese military here is not the solution to the territorial dispute with China. Bringing our case to a multi-lateral body and gather international support against China’s bullying is the strong but peaceful track that we should follow. The Visiting Forces Agreement with the US must be terminated instead of expanded,” Colmenares said. Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap said since 2010, US naval ships have frequented Subic Bay supposedly for maintenance, refueling and courtesy visits. “In the past six months, 72 US warships and submarines docked at Subic, 88 ships visited in 2012, 54 in 2011 and 51 in 2010,” Hicap said citing official reports. “These visits are not simple logistical stopovers. The Philippine government is obviously portraying an active role in the US government’s increasing economic, political and presence and military build-up in the Asia-Pacific region,” Hicap said. Hicap also lambasted the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercises that started this week near the disputed Panatag Shoal. “We refuse to be dragged into the proxy military wars between US and China. Filipinos must raise concerns over the increasing presence and deployment of US and foreign troops in the country under the guise of joint military trainings. We must not allow further encroachment of our national sovereignty by US superpowers and foreign forces,” Hicap said. ACT Teachers Rep. Anotnio Tinio said historically, the US has used the Philippines as a stepping-stone for military intervention in China. US troops based in the Philippines were among the foreign troops that invaded China and occupied Beijing in 1900, Tinio said. “Most Filipinos are probably unaware of this, while the Chinese certainly have not forgotten. Instead of forging an independent and self-reliant foreign policy in response to Chinese territorial incursions, the Aquino administration would let this country reprise its role as neocolonial outpost, a staging area for the encirclement of China by the US,” Tinio said. He said the Aquino administration should stop fooling the people. “Whether they’re called basing or access agreements, the expanded access deal for US forces will further diminish our national sovereignty, perpetuate the abject dependence on the US military for external defense, and aggravate the tension over the disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea,” Tinio said. “The government’s disturbing hospitality towards US and other foreign troops is a direct affront to our national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The DND is acting like a willing host and aide to foreign forces without giving due consideration to the safety and security of Filipinos,” Hicap said. Amid the controversy over access rights, US Secretary of State begins his first Southeast Asian trip with a visit to Brunei to attend a regional security forum with more than 20 counterparts from countries including China, Japan and North Korea. The US 7th Fleet, meanwhile, said it has deployed its amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard to patrol its area of responsibility in the Asia Pacific. With lorante S. Solmerin and Christine F. Herrera
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