Obama: No US bases
Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - April 29, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The United States will not reestablish its military bases or build new ones in the Philippines even with the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the two countries, US President Barack Obama said yesterday.

The 10-year agreement, signed yesterday by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador Philip Goldberg shortly before the arrival of Obama, would allow American troops to build facilities within Philippine bases in a move seen to upgrade Manila’s equipment-deficient military.

In a joint briefing at Malacañang with President Aquino, Obama said he wanted “to be very clear” that the US “is not trying to reclaim old bases or build new bases.”

He called the signing of the EDCA the “beginning of an important new chapter in a relationship between our countries.”

He pointed out that at the invitation of the Philippines, “American service members will rotate to Filipino facilities” to address a range of challenges, including humanitarian crisis and natural disasters like Super Typhoon Yolanda.

“We’ll work together to build the Philippines’ defense capabilities and work with other nations to promote regional stability, such as in the South China Sea,” he said.

Through the new agreement, Obama said the Philippines and the US seek to “update” decades of alliance.

For his part, Aquino said the EDCA “takes our security cooperation to a higher level of engagement, reaffirms our countries’ commitment to mutual defense and security, and promotes regional peace and stability.”

Aquino also said China should not be concerned about the agreement, as it would largely cover training or disaster relief operations.

As an example, Aquino said the Americans made available their V-22 Osprey aircraft to help in relief operations in the aftermath of Yolanda, “quite a significant upgrade in capabilities in terms of reaching out to very remote areas.”

“We don’t have a comparable aircraft. We have smaller helicopters. And we have 44 of our provinces devastated by Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda),” Aquino said.

“And the goal for this agreement is to build Philippine capacity, to engage in training, engage in coordination – not simply to deal with issues of maritime security, but also to enhance our capabilities so that if there’s a natural disaster that takes place, we are able to potentially respond more quickly,” he added.

Shared goal

Goldberg said the agreement “will contribute to increased interoperability and a greater ability to jointly respond to humanitarian crises.”

He also said the agreement “will support the shared goal of promoting the long-term modernization” of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as well as help the AFP “maintain and develop additional maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities.”

Gazmin said EDCA manifests a “deepened relationship” between the two countries amid “complex” security challenges.

“Our alliance has continued to evolve as both our countries continuously search for mechanisms that would enhance our individual and collective abilities to face such security challenges,” Gazmin said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the US and the Philippines “have written a new chapter for our modern and mature partnership” with the signing of EDCA.

“Given the rapidly evolving regional architecture and domestic realities, our dynamic and forward-looking partnership attaches great importance to enhancing our individual and collective self-defense capabilities, strengthening maritime security and maritime domain awareness, and improving humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capacities,” he said in a statement.

On concerns that EDCA might affect bilateral relations with neighboring countries, he said the agreement merely reaffirms the desire of both the Philippines and the US to strengthen international and regional security and stability.

“We would hope that this agreement will also be viewed by our neighbors as a positive contribution towards peace and stability in the region,” a DFA statement said.

The deal, an offshoot of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), allows the US to construct facilities and store defense equipment in Philippine bases.

The building of facilities and pre-positioning of equipment to be shared by Filipino and American troops would only be in mutually agreed upon areas.

“We haven’t agreed on any locations yet. It will be covered in an annex and implementing arrangements. We have not discussed any agreed locations yet,” Philippine panel member Lourdes Yparaguirre said.

Other details such as the number of troops that can be deployed temporarily to the Philippines will also be part of the deal’s annex.

The Philippines’ prior consent is required before a particular area can be accessed by US troops. The agreement also guarantees access of the AFP base commander to areas where the US military operates.

The Philippines automatically takes over buildings and infrastructure built and left behind by the US after specific military projects.

Goldberg said the agreement is clear about the preeminence of Philippine sovereignty and the US position against establishing permanent military bases in the country.

“I should also reiterate what it will not do: reopen bases,” the US envoy said.

The Senate voted to shut down the US bases in the country in 1991 but a visiting forces agreement allowing joint drills between Philippine and US troops was ratified eight years later.

The EDCA also prohibits the entry into the Philippines of weapons of mass destruction and enjoins the two countries to commit to environmental protection, human health and safety.

Framework

In Kuala Lumpur, National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs Evan Medeiros said EDCA “creates a legal and policy infrastructure” for greater military cooperation between the US and the Philippines.

“It’s sort of like the skeletal and the muscular infrastructure that over time, as we talk with the Philippines about what their needs are and what missions they want to work with us on, we will then work through what the specific nature of the training and the exercising will be,” he said.

“We’ll be working with them (Filipinos) about how best we can help them build up their capability to meet what they call credible minimum deterrence – that’s sort of their defense strategy. So we’re still working through those specific capabilities with the Philippines,” he said.

“We’re not doing this because of China. We’re doing this because we have a longstanding alliance partner,” he said in reply to a query.

The White House released a transcript of Medeiros’ Kuala Lumpur briefing.

Medeiros declined to speculate when pressed on whether he foresaw limits placed by the Philippines on the type of weaponry, including nuclear weapons or nuclear-powered submarines, that US forces could bring there.

“As I said, the scope, the duration and the location of our rotational presence in the Philippines is something that we’re going to be working out with them in the coming weeks and years as we try to determine how we want to train and exercise together,” he said.

Referring to maritime disputes in the South China Sea, Medeiros repeated the US line that it opposes the use of intimidation, coercion or aggression by any state to advance its maritime territorial claims.

“And to the extent that our work with our alliance partners and our security partners helps them become more capable and not being vulnerable to intimidation, coercion or aggression, we think that’s a good thing,” Medeiros said. “And that’s one of the reasons why we seek to modernize our alliances and our security partnerships when we come here in the region.”

In Manila, Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. of the Presidential Communications Operations Office said the signing of the EDCA is an affirmation of the decades-old “robust and enduring partnership” between the two allies.

“The agreement opens wider opportunities for developing our self-defense capabilities and strengthening maritime security and marine domain awareness at a time of evolving and rapidly changing global and regional realities,” Coloma said.

He added that EDCA “builds capacity for more effective disaster relief and rehabilitation response.”

“These are vital elements in the continuing efforts of both countries to work in solidarity with the international community in attaining the shared goal of regional peace and stability,” Coloma stressed. With Alexis Romero, Delon Porcalla, Pia Lee-Brago, Perseus Echeminada, Jaime Laude, Jose Katigbak

 

AGREEMENT AQUINO BASES DEFENSE EDCA MEDEIROS OBAMA PHILIPPINES SECURITY SOUTH CHINA SEA
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