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Friday, May 14, 2021

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Philippines: Draft of defence pact with US sent to Aquino
A draft of the proposed enhanced defence cooperation agreed upon by United States and Philippine negotiators was sent to Philippine President Benigno Aquino for approval ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit end of April, sources said, adding it could also pave the way for the modernisation of the country’s armed forces as territorial disputes in the South China Sea rage.
“The draft provisions on key points of an enhanced defence cooperation [between the US and the Philippines, after eight months of talks] will be submitted to the Philippines president for his review,” said Defence Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, head of the Philippine panel.
It would add to Aquino’s call that the proposed agreement should follow provisions of the Philippine Constitution and laws, said Batino, adding that the recently concluded eighth round of talks between the US and Philippines “brought us much closer to finding full consensus.”
Predicting the impact of the proposed agreement, Batino said it would augur well for the “modernisation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and achievement of the country’s minimum credible defence posture”.
It would also pave the way for “more expeditious humanitarian assistance and disaster relief [HADR]” in the Philippines, said Batino, referring to the perennial need of foreign assistance when powerful typhoons batter parts of the Philippines.
A copy of the draft agreement that was sent to media entities said that access and use of Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) facilities and areas by an increasing number of American troops can be done only “at the invitation of the Philippines and with full respect for the Philippine Constitution and Philippine laws”.
Both parties have agreed that the US will not establish a permanent military presence or base in the territory of the Philippines, a sign of recognition of Philippine sovereignty, the proposed agreement said.
The US armed forces could bring into Philippine facilities equipment and war material but not nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, it was stated, adding that parties have also agreed to protect environment, human health and safety within the facilities.
Citing the economic benefits of this agreement to Filipinos, Philippine ambassador Lourdes Yparraguirre, a member of the Philippine panel, said the US armed force will purchase local goods and supplies for US troops.
The US armed forces will also offer jobs to Filipinos, said Yparraguirre, but did not give details.
Noting the overall value of the proposed defence agreement, Yparraguirre said: “Both the Philippines and the United States recognise these are valuable dimensions to this updated framework of defence cooperation.”
The proposed defence agreement is “a new model” of the “maturing relations” between two allies, said Yparraguirre.
As this happened, US destroyer USS Howard docked at Manila’s South Harbour for replenishment of supplies on Friday. The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer is part of the US Pacific Fleet.
The return of a larger contingent of US troops to the country has been seen as a deterrent to China’s rising maritime might in the region.
China, Taiwan, and Vietnam claim the whole of the South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippine claim some parts of the Spratly Archipelago off the South China Sea, based on the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that grants 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone to countries starting from their shores.
But China has overtaken several shoals which are nearer the Philippines than the eight-island chain the Philippines has claimed in the Spratly Archipelago.
Meanwhile, a debate is going on whether the Philippine Senate has to ratify the proposed US-Philippine executive agreement for its full implementation.
Fifteen years ago, the US and the Philippines signed the Visiting Forces Agreement, which set guidelines for the resumption of large-scale joint war games between the two countries. It was ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1998.
In 20001, the Philippine government allowed US presence and US intelligence assistance to Philippine soldiers tasked with tracking down the Al Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf terror group in the southern Philippines.
In 1991, the Philippine Senate rejected the US-initiated extension of the now defunct US-Philippine Military Bases Agreement, the basis of US presence in the country since 1898, at the end of the Spanish colonial era (that lasted for almost 400 years since the 16th century).
This ended the presence of two largest US overseas war facilities in central Luzon’s Angeles, Pampanga, and Olongapo, Zambales in 1992. It also marked the end of the Cold War (between the US and the former United Soviet Socialist Republic).
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