MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines and the United States (US) will resume Wednesday (Philippine time) talks on the increased rotational presence of American troops in the country amid fresh tensions caused by China’s posturing in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The sixth round of negotiations on the proposed deal will last for two days and will be held in Washington.
Officials did not reveal anything new about the upcoming talks, choosing instead to reiterate statements that they have been saying since the negotiations started last August.
“We look forward to building on the substantive progress we have had during the previous round in this forthcoming sixth round,” said Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, chairman of the Philippine negotiating panel.
“The Philippine negotiating panel will continue to articulate and promote our national values and interests and will remain guided by the principles of full respect for Philippine sovereignty,” he added.
Other principles to be stressed, Batino said, are non-permanence of US troops, mutuality of benefits, respect for the Philippine constitution including prohibition against nuclear weapons and non-establishment of American bases.
The sixth round will be held back-to-back with the Philippine-US Bilateral Strategic Dialogue on March 6 to 7 also in Washington.
The resumption of the talks came as the Philippines is asking China to shed light on reports that a Chinese Coast Guard ship used water cannons to drive away Filipino fishermen in Panatag (Scarboorough) Shoal last January.
Panatag Shoal is a traditional fishing route off Zambales and is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Officials believe shoring up US presence will allow the Philippines to achieve what they called a minimum credible defense. The two countries have completed five rounds of negotiations since August.
There have been speculations that the signing of the agreement on increased rotational presence would coincide with the visit of US President Barack Obama to the Philippines in April. Security officials, however, could not provide a timetable for the completion of the talks
“Let us not talk about IRP (increased rotational presence) yet. We might preempt it. The talks are running smoothly. We are talking about enhanced defense cooperation and the language (of the agreement),” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said in a chance interview last month.
“Why should we rush it (deal) if there are contentious points?” he added.
Gazmin, nevertheless, said the signing of a deal on US troops’ presence would be a good issue to discuss during Obama’s visit.
During the fifth round of negotiations in January, Philippine and US negotiators reaffirmed their commitment to enhance their cooperation in security, humanitarian assistance and disaster response.