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PHL, US inch closer to deal on increased rotational presence of US troops

March 10, 2014 5:39pm
(Updated 8:08 p.m.) The Philippines and the United States are inching closer to a framework agreement for the increased rotational presence of American forces in the Philippines, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Monday. 
 
“Both panels went through the entire draft agreement and reached consensus on many provisions, including on the proposed accord’s preamble, purpose and scope, definition of terms, ownership of constructed infrastructure, coordination on security, contracting procedures, and resolution of disputes,” the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC said in a statement.
 
The negotiations were the sixth in a round of talks seeking to boost the Philippines' external defense capability amid the territorial rift between the Philippines and China over territories in the South China Sea. The accord would allow US soldiers to remain in the country on a rotational basis.

“This fresh round has clearly shown the shared commitment of both parties to enhance cooperation in defense, security and related fields, including humanitarian assistance and disaster response. The further exchanges of views have helped pave the way for the formulation of mutually agreeable language,” said Department of National Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, who is also chair of the Philippine Negotiating Panel.

As China boldly asserts claim over the resource-rich waters, Philippine government officials said an expanded US military presence could help its cash-strapped military defend the Philippines’ territory as it builds up its defense capability.

No US bases
 
However, Batino emphasized that whatever the final form of the agreement, it must be constitutional and non-permanent.
 
“As in the preceding five rounds, the Philippine Negotiating Panel is guided by the principles of full respect for Philippine sovereignty; non-permanence of US troops and no US basing in the Philippines; [and] mutuality of benefits and respect for the Philippine Constitution, including the prohibition against nuclear weapons,” he said.
 
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has refused to give a specific date when the IRP Framework Agreement will be signed but US President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit the country in late April.
 
In the meantime, the two sides will meet again in Manila in late March to work on remaining issues, DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said. Galvez also shed additional light on the nature of the latest round of talks.
 
“Both panels went through the entire draft agreement and reached consensus on many provisions, including on the proposed accord’s preamble, purpose and scope, definition of terms, ownership of constructed infrastructure, coordination on security, contracting procedures, and resolution of disputes,” said Galvez.
 
Galvez said the US panel also “agreed to the inclusion of provisions on environment and safety, and opportunities for potential Philippine suppliers of goods, products and services.”

South China Sea

The two parties also discussed the territorial dispute involving the South China Sea, with both sides expressing concern over the recent developments there.

The Philippine Embassy said in a statement that both sides gave weight to the Philippines' stand that disputes in the South China Sea “should be settled in accordance with international law and through diplomatic or other peaceful means, such as through the use of arbitration.”

It added that both sides “expressed opposition to unilateral measures that aim to alter the status quo and that escalate tensions in the region and called on all parties to exercise self-restraint.”

“They underscored that maritime claims in the South China Sea must be derived from land features in accordance with the international law of the sea, as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” the statement added. Patricia Denise Chiu and Michaela del Callar/JDS/KBK/BM, GMA News
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