THE Philippines said Sunday it would sign a 10-year agreement with the United States today to allow a greater US military presence on its territory amid its bitter territorial dispute with China.
A statement from the Defense Department on Sunday said the signing would take place in Manila on Monday morning, a few hours before US President Barack Obama was due to arrive for a two-day visit.
Quoting Philippine government sources, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua added that the 10-year defense pact, finalized after eight rounds of talks that began in August 2013, grants US troops access to designated Philippine military facilities, the right to construct facilities, and pre-position equipment, aircraft and vessels, but rules out permanent basing.
Sources said the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement will be signed as an executive agreement, meaning it will not require congressional ratification because it is not a treaty.
There is no definite number on the entry of visiting troops, they added.
Earlier this month, after the eighth round of negotiations for the agreement, Defense Undersecretary and chairman of the Philippine negotiating panel Pio Lorenzo Batino said the two sides found consensus on key points of the agreement.
Batino said the agreement states that US access to and use of Armed Forces of the Philippines’ facilities and areas will be “at the invitation of the Philippines and with full respect for Philippine Constitution and Philippine laws.”
The pact will also indicate that the United States will not establish a permanent military presence or base in the Philippines. Besides that, the United States has also agreed that any equipment and material that its military will bring into the country will not include nuclear weapons, Batino said.
For decades, the US maintained large military bases in Clark and Subic Bay until Congress voted to close them down in 1991.
American forces returned to the country eight years later under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which was ratified by the Senate in 1999 to govern the temporary stay of US forces for joint training with the Philippine military.
The framework agreement will top today’s agenda when Obama, on the last leg of a four-nation Asian tour, meets President Benigno Aquino III in Malacañang.
Obama, who is scheduled to arrive at about 1:30 p.m. Monday, will be received by Philippine officials at Villamor Air Base and will proceed to Malacanang for the meeting of two heads of states.
Defense officials said ahead of the meeting, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador Philip Goldberg would sign the EDCA at the Armed Forces Officers Club at 10 a.m.
The officials said the EDCA would be completely different from the VFA, which focuses only on joint military exercises and does not cover the positioning of US fighter jets and ships in selected Philippine military bases.
The signing of the defense accord comes at a time when the Philippines is embroiled in a heated territorial dispute with China in the oil-rich West Philippine Sea.
A Palace official said Sunday that Obama’s visit is aimed at strengthening strategic relations between the United States and the Philippines.
Presidential Communication Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said when President Aquino and President Obama meet, they will talk about bilateral relations on three major fronts.
These will focus on strengthening political and security cooperation; expanding trade and investments, tourism and development cooperation; and, on deepening people-to-people ties, Coloma said.
The country already has strong ties with the US as there are an estimated 2.27 million Filipinos living in the United States, while some 670,000 tourists from the US visited the Philippines in 2013.
In economic development, the partnership is focused on meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
He said this is through direct economic assistance and improving public infrastructure, achieving significant poverty reduction, and supporting the administration’s good governance and anti-corruption agenda.
Armed Forces officials said key units would be put on blue alert for Obama’s visit. Under a blue alert, the military can quickly mobilize 50 percent of its strength, should the need arise.
The Armed Forces Joint Task Force-NCR (National Capital Region), on the other hand, will be on red alert as it supports the Philippine National Police and the Presidential Security Group, the lead agency in securing Obama’s visit.
Red alert means all available officers and men of the joint task force must report immediately to their respective places of assignment.
The US Secret Service contingent has been in the Philippines since April 21 to oversee the security arrangements. – With AFP, PNA
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