RP, US sign 5-year MLSA

- Efren Danao, Paolo Romero -
The United States and the Philippines finally signed yesterday a five-year military logistics support agreement — seen as a key element in enhancing Manila’s fight against terrorism — after negotiating for over a year to make it conform with Philippine law.

The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) would give the US limited rights to base equipment in the Philippines for a limited period.

Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Eduardo Purification said Navy Commodore Ernesto de Leon and US army Col. Mathias Velasco, a representative of the US Defense Department, signed the MLSA early yesterday at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

Briefing the Senate on the agreement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople said the MLSA, however, would not lead to the re-establishment of US bases in the Philippines.

"Bringing back the US bases was never the intention of either party. Violating our laws and our Constitution was never our intention," he said.

Ople also stressed the agreement does not require approval by the Senate because it only implements the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement between the United States and the Philippines.

Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr., chairman of the Senate committee on national defense, agreed, saying the MLSA was a mere "technical" agreement.

"The objective of this agreement... is to enhance the effectiveness and interoperability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the US armed forces in the fight against terrorism," Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, who accompanied Ople, told senators.

The agreement, Ople explained, would enable the Philippines to easily obtain critical materials and supplies in exchange for logistics the Philippines can provide the United States.

Ople said the negotiations took over a year "because the Philippines wanted to include language in the agreement that would categorically dispel any notions that the MLSA was intended to bring back the bases."

US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone described the accord as a "fairly boring" and "low-level agreement" similar to what the US has with 59 other countries, including non-allies.

"I’ll buy some gasoline from you, and you’ll pay me with an aircraft tire. It’s that kind of boring thing," he said. "It has nothing to do with bases. It will not lead to more US forces being here."

Asked how it will help boost the war on terrorism, Ricciardone said: "Anything that improves our two militaries’ ability to cooperate with each other on a tactical daily routine basis is a good thing."

Reyes said there was no need for him and his US counterpart, Donald Rumsfeld, to sign the MLSA because it was a "low-level" agreement.

Press reports said the commander of the US forces in the Pacific, Adm. Thomas Fargo, was expected to visit Manila next week to sign the document.

Officials said the agreement was designed to enable "reciprocal logistic support" between the armed forces of the two countries for the duration of an "approved activity" such as "combined exercises and training, operations and other deployments."

It also shall apply during "other cooperative efforts" such as humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and rescue operations and maritime anti-pollution efforts within or outside Philippine territory.

The agreement specified that no US military base, facility or permanent structure will be allowed, apparently to appease critics who said the MLSA was a cover for the return of US bases closed in the early 1990s.

In 1992 the US shut down its two large military bases in the Philippines when the Senate rejected a treaty extending the bases’ leases.

The MLSA covers communications equipment, storage facilities, general purpose vehicles and other non-lethal equipment.

Supplies such as food, water and fuel, and support and services such as billeting, transportation, communications and medical services will be exchanged or transferred under the agreement.

But it will not allow the transfer of major armaments such as weapons systems, guided missiles, naval mines, nuclear ammunition and warheads and chemical weapons.

Although the agreement will remain in force for five years, both sides are to review it one year before it expires for a possible extension.

Nationalist and leftist groups, which are leery of any US military influence in the country, had earlier raised questions over the MLSA, which they claimed went against constitutional provisions banning the basing of foreign military in the country.

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) urged the Senate to "combat Malacañang’s irresponsible and unpatriotic plan to arrogate upon itself the treaty-ratifying powers vested solely" in the Senate.

Bayan said the agreement is actually a "military bases agreement under another name but without respect for national sovereignty and territory, and without any compensation."

Some 100 members of Bayan gathered outside the US Embassy to protest the MLSA and a possible US military strike against Iraq. The protesters carried "Junk MLSA Now" slogans and pictures of Iraqi mothers and their children.

Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr., a nationalist, quit his second post as foreign affairs secretary in July after publicly opposing the agreement and President Arroyo’s policy of allowing US troops in an anti-terrorism campaign here.

Guingona has urged the government to allow the Senate to review the accord because of constitutional questions.

"There will always be people who will question its constitutionality, but we are always prepared to defend it," Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Lauro Baja said, confirming that the agreement will not be submitted to the Senate.

A thousand US troops spent six months mainly in Basilan province early this year to assist the Philippine military against the Abu Sayyaf Islamist kidnap gang, linked to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network.

About 200 US soldiers are still in Mindanao overseeing civil infrastructure projects, but officials said 300 others are to arrive in February next year for the second series of joint exercises. With Aurea Calica Romel Bagares

vuukle comment











  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with