Security ‘quad’ with US, Australia, Japan proposed

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
Security �quad� with US, Australia, Japan proposed
File photo shows Sen. Francis Tolentino.
The STAR / Geremy Pintolo, file

Marcos: Government to review defense triad with US, Japan

MANILA, Philippines —  The proposed visiting forces agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and Japan was a long time coming and could pave the way for a “quad” security cooperation to include the US and Australia, according to a senator.

Sen. Francis Tolentino, vice chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, yesterday said the possible forging of a VFA between the Philippines and Japan was not surprising as the two neighboring countries had at least two strategic pacts since 2009 – the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement and the 2016 pact on the transfer of defense equipment and technology.

“There are benefits to it. Is it constitutional? Yes, it is. We have the Supreme Court ruling in Saguisag vs. Executive Secretary where the VFA was mentioned,” Tolentino told dzBB in Filipino.

Asked about the reported “security triad” among the Philippines, Japan and the US raised by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during his meeting with President Marcos on Thursday, Tolentino said: “For me, my thinking is this could not only be a triad, but this could already be a quad.”

In 2007, the Philippines signed a reciprocal VFA with Australia – the only other country besides the US with which the Philippines has such an agreement. This VFA went into force in 2012.

A VFA in general, Tolentino said, allows the presence of foreign military troops in certain agreed locations in the country, but only on rotational basis for various purposes, including cross-training and transfer of technology.

He noted the Philippines and the US armed forces have jointly been conducting Balikatan exercises annually in the past decades but still saw it fit to have a VFA.

He said the formal push for the 2016 agreement with Japan started in 2011, apparently referring to the joint statement of “strategic partnership” between the late president Benigno Aquino III and then Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda.

“So it’s the same with the impending VFA. This is not sudden and just thought of recently… this is a culmination of the series of agreements. Some say this is because of some conflict in the South China Sea. There was still no arbitral ruling when these agreements came about,” Tolentino said.

“So the groundwork for this has long been laid,” he said, referring to the 2016 ruling of the arbitral tribunal in The Hague that debunked China’s sweeping “nine-dash line” claim over the South China Sea.

Tolentino explained that having a VFA with Japan and other allied nations would be beneficial while the country does not have yet billions of dollars to spend to strengthen its Armed Forces as its security budget needs to be funneled to calamities and other emergencies.

Should the VFA be forged, he suggested that Japan put up its temporary installations close to disaster-prone areas in the country because it can be depended on by Filipinos in times of need.

He cited a personal experience when he contracted chikungunya while helping out in Yolanda-hit areas in 2013 as then chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.

Tolentino said he was airlifted to Manila in a C-130 aircraft that he later learned belonged to the Japanese Air Self Defense Force, which had been helping out in disaster relief in the aftermath of Yolanda.

Philippine laws would prevail in the event the Philippines and Japan enter into a VFA just like in the other pacts with the US and Australia, he added.

He welcomed reports of the plan of the Philippines and the US to conduct joint patrols in the South China Sea as it would prevent the country from being bullied by China or other claimants.

“Now, we would have joint patrols with (US) naval and coast guard forces… now, our fishermen can fish without being driven out in Bajo de Masinloc,” Tolentino said.

Defense, security cooperation

Meanwhile, President Marcos said the Philippines would review the proposed tripartite defense and security cooperation with the US and Japan, citing today’s “confusing” and “dangerous situations” in the Indo-Pacific region and other parts of the world.

In an interview with Japan’s Kyodo News on Friday, Marcos said one of the “many other issues” raised by the Philippine delegation in Tokyo is fostering alliances with its long-time partners.

“There are actually many other issues that we have raised – I mean, not issues but other ideas and other proposals that have been raised between the Philippines and Japan. One of them is the tripartite agreement with the United States, Japan and the Philippines,” he said.

“It is something that we certainly are going to be studying upon my return to the Philippines. I think it is just part of the continuing process of strengthening our alliances because in this rather confusing, and I dare say dangerous situations that we have, I’m not talking only about the South China Sea, I’m not only talking about the Indo-Pacific region but, of course, there is a conflict still ongoing in Ukraine and the rather disturbing effects that it has all around the world,” the President said.

Marcos left Tokyo yesterday afternoon after a five-day official visit upon the invitation of Prime Minister Kishida.

He said the proposed tripartite defense and security mechanism is part of a “continuing and ongoing” process to make more “solid partnerships and alliances that we are beginning to put together in our areas.”

“I think (this is) a central element to providing some sort of stability in the face of all these problems we are seeing around us,” the Chief Executive said.

In a joint statement on Thursday, Marcos and Kishida resolved to increase the defense capabilities of their own countries and further strengthen overall security cooperation.

This will be done through strategic reciprocal port calls and aircraft visits, transfer of more defense equipment and technology, continuous cooperation on previously transferred defense equipment and capacity building, they said.

At a joint press conference with Marcos, Kishida stressed that both countries are looking at including the US in the security cooperation and joint activities.

The US has separate security treaties with the Philippines and Japan.

“We will also look into ways to promote our defense equipment and technology cooperation and to strengthen cooperation among Japan, the United States, and the Philippines,” Kishida said.

The Philippines and Japan signed on Thursday the Terms of Reference on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, which is seen as a step to allow both countries to deploy forces on each other’s soil.

Speaker Martin Romualdez, Marcos’ first cousin, earlier said he believes the security and defense cooperation forged between the Philippines and Japan on Thursday could lead to a VFA. – Helen Flores

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