MANILA— Philippine officials announced that they have reached a “consensus” with the United States on a plan to host temporary U.S. military facilities on Philippine bases. The two countries are in the last stages of negotiations to increase the number of American troop visits each year.
The Philippine negotiating panel said the issue of giving the Philippines authority to enter facilities used by American troops has been the foremost concern in ongoing talks.
The negotiators said language in the agreement would allow Philippine authorities access to wherever the U.S. troops would be.
A member of the panel, Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya, said the provision is clear.
“They cannot say ‘no.’ This is within Philippine base. There are no extra-territorial features. There is no exclusivity feature… And Philippine law prevails there,” said Malaya.
Malaya noted that exceptions would be made if the U.S. cited security and safety concerns.
As part of its foreign policy shift toward Asia, the U.S. wants the ability to land planes, dock ships and keep equipment ready for use in the Philippines.
The Philippines, with its weak and aging military, is looking to bolster its minimum credible defense posture in the face of a heated territorial dispute with China.
Beijing and Manila have competing claims to rocky outcroppings in the South China Sea. In recent weeks the Philippines submitted protests to China over alleged harassment of its vessels near contested shoals. Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the resource rich sea, which is a major trade route.
In 1991, under domestic pressure, the Philippines booted out the nearly century-old American bases here. Less than 10 years later the two countries entered into a visiting forces agreement that has seen hundreds of U.S. troops rotating into the Philippines’ south on a regular basis.
The proposed agreement emphasizes adherence to the Philippine constitution, which does not allow bases for foreign powers. With the arrangement currently being discussed, Philippine officials are reluctant to say any of the proposed American facilities would be akin to a full-fledged military base.
Lead negotiator Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino said the arrangement would not be a “base within a base” set-up.
“The locations provided to the U.S. troops would not be exclusive to them. [They could] be jointly used… The facilities would be used to obtain mutual benefits for the U.S. armed forces and the Philippine armed forces,” said Batino.
Negotiators say they do not expect the duration of the agreement to be longer than 20 years.
It is not known if an agreement will be completed by the time of U.S. President Barrack Obama’s expected trip to the Philippines in April.
Another round of talks is scheduled for the end of the month.