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Gazmin admits impasse on Phl-US rotational presence talks

MANILA, Philippines - Talks between the Philippines and the United States (US) on the increased rotational presence have hit an impasse as both sides have yet to reach a deal on American facilities to be set up in the country.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin admitted Wednesday that the Philippine panel had disagreed on some of the proposals floated by the US.

“It is at the stage where there is negotiation so it’s a give and take process. Right now, we have not agreed on the issues raised,” Gazmin told reporters in an interview yesterday.

The defense chief confirmed that among the issues that need to be threshed out is the access of Filipino troops to the temporary US facilities.

“They have proposals that we do not agree with. But that’s how negotiations are. These will be discussed until such time when the parties agree,” Gazmin said in Filipino.

Both panels are also fixing problems on the wording of the agreement, he added.

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Gazmin, nevertheless, is optimistic that the negotiations will move forward.

“I don’t think it (negotiation) will collapse. I am very optimistic that these issues will be resolved. Of course these are difficult at first but eventually, there will be processes that will lead to understanding,” he said.

The defense chief stressed that the agreement should provide “equal opportunity” and “equal access” to both parties.

“Well, everything should be beneficial to the Philippines. That is the major idea,” Gazmin said.

The presence of American forces is a controversial issue in the country, with some sectors believing this will violate Philippine sovereignty.

In 1991, the Philippine Senate voted to shut down the US bases in the country. Eight years later, the legislative body ratified the Visiting Forces Agreement which allowed American soldiers to conduct joint drills with their Filipino counterparts.

The Philippines and the US have adopted a policy of increased rotational presence amid China’s recent actions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Security officials believe that providing temporary access to US troops will help the country attain a minimum credible defense.

The Philippine panel is led by Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino and is composed of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Carlos Sorreta, Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III and Defense Assistant Secretary Raymund Quilop.

The US panel, meanwhile, is headed by State Department senior negotiator for military agreements Eric John and consists of State Department Attorney Advisor Elizabeth Jones, Brig. Gen. Joaquin Malavet, and Capt. Greg Bart.

Philippine officials said the negotiations would be guided by the principles of strict compliance with the Philippine Constitution, laws, and jurisprudence, Philippine sovereignty, non-permanence of US troops in Philippine territory, non-exclusivity of use of facilities by the US side, and mutuality of benefits.

The two panels have completed four rounds of negotiations but have yet to schedule a fifth one.

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