Militants protest in front of Camp Aguinaldo over US troops access
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - August 13, 2013 - 7:31pm

MANILA, Philippines - Militant groups on Tuesday staged a protest in front of the military’s main headquarters to decry the plan to grant the United States (US) wider access to Philippine bases.

About 20 to 30 activists gathered in front of Camp Aguinaldo to stage the protest, which was held a day before the start of the negotiations on the increased rotational presence of US troops.

“We are definitely opposed to any negotiations for greater access for the US troops. We view that the negotiations and eventual granting of access to US forces and ships will be detrimental to national interest,” said Renato Reyes, secretary-general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.

"We’ve had almost a century of US bases yet the armed forces did not develop. We have more than a decade of Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) yet our armed forces remain backward,” he added.

Members of the labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno and Bayan Muna were also present during the protest.

The protesters waved placards that read “US troops out now!” and “No to return of US bases! Stop US intervention” as members of the military police looked on.

Wearing helmets and holding shields, the military police personnel  ignored the protesters, who ended their program peacefully after about an hour.

Reyes said the access agreement would reduce the Philippines into “a giant weapons depot for the US forces.”

“The country would be used as a staging ground for US intervention such as drone strikes in other parts of the world,” he said.

Reyes believes the US would  be unable to help the Philippines in its territorial row with China.

“The US will not go head to head with China nor is it under any obligation to take side in any territorial dispute. The US has a lot of economic interests in China. The US is merely exploiting the dispute,” he said.

Reyes said plans to craft an executive agreement allowing the increased rotational presence of US forces would be tantamount to bypassing the Senate.

He said the government is resorting to legal shortcuts to hasten the implementation of the agreement.

Under the law, a treaty should be ratified by the Senate before it takes effect. An executive agreement, however does not need a Senate concurrence.

“The US has no intention of modernizing the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) because it wants to keep the Philippines dependent on US aid,” Reyes said.

The Philippines and the US will start Wednesday the talks for an agreement that will increase the rotational presence of American forces in the country.

The agreement is expected to set parameters for activities that can be undertaken by the two countries. Security officials have clarified that the deal would not involve the establishment of new US bases, which is prohibited by the constitution.

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

The US panel, meanwhile, will be led by Eric John, senior negotiator for military agreements of the State Department.

Officials said the Philippine negotiating panel would be guided by the following principles: 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.

Last year, the US bared plans to deploy majority of its naval fleet to the Pacific by 2020. Then US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the move was part of Washington’s efforts to boost its presence in the Asia Pacific.

The US naval assets would be realigned from a roughly 50-50 split between the Pacific and the Atlantic to about 60-40 split between those oceans.


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