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PHL sees expanded US military ties keeping China aggression at bay

(Updated 5:37 p.m.) The Aquino administration is pinning its hopes that Chinese incursions into the disputed West Philippine Sea will stop once an expanded military cooperation with the United States is in place.   “But not just that, everything we are doing to enhance our maritime security, whether it be with the US or on our own or with other countries is meant to defend our territorial integrity,” Ricky Carandang, head of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, told reporters at a briefing Friday.   He then confirmed that talks are ongoing between US and Philippine officials on enhancing defense cooperation between the two allies.   The Philippines badly needs defense cooperation agreements with other countries, the Place official said.   “I don’t think anyone will deny that the Philippine defense capability has lagged behind its neighbors in the last several decades,” Carandang noted, adding that “… the Aquino administration, since it came into office, has been working very hard to enhance our defense capabilities, particularly our maritime capabilities,” he said.   “We’re doing this in cooperation not just with the United, but also with Australia and other Asian neighbors. So that’s part and parcel of our efforts to enhance our defense capabilities,” he added. In Camp Aguinaldo, Defense chief Voltaire Gazmin echoed Carandang's remarks. “It may even result on no intrusions if we have (US) ships plying our area. Its not actually just in the Philippines because this is a large channel (where the US will be moving).”  “I would look at it from the positive point of view that there will be stability because we have enough deterrent. If we do not have a deterrent, there might be violation of our territories. Now, if we have good neighbor on the block, there will be not much intrusions, we will not be exploited,” Gazmin added. For his part, Foreign Affairs chief Alberto del Rosario said: "Yes, it is to our definite advantage to be exploring how to maximize our treaty alliance with the United States in ways that would be mutually acceptable and beneficial.” 
But Del Rosario quickly stressed that “any actions taken will be consistent with our treaty obligations and in accordance with Philippine laws and the 1987 Constitution.”
Brunei, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietman and the Philippines are locked in a geopolitical dispute over the Spratly Group of Islands, with each country either claiming all or parts of the disputed area also referred to as the South China Sea.     The Philippines has lodged diplomatic protests against China’s repeated incursions into the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea.   Treaty partners of the Philippines are “obliged to help defend us when there are incursions into undisputed Philippine territory, that has not changed,” said Carandang. Nothing is final   Asked if US military presence in the Spratlys will be visible in the tension-filled area  once an agreement has been forged, Carandang said he does not know.     “What we are really talking about is in undisputed Philippine territory. We never had Balikatan exercises in those disputed Philippine territories, always been in areas that are indisputably with the Philippines,” he said.   With the talks still in the early stages, Carangdang noted nothing is final and that it will not lead to a return of US military bases in the Philippines.      “We are not talking about permanent American military presence here, we are talking about temporary presence which does not violate our Constitution,” he explained.   US military presence in the Philippines started in 1898, after the Americans wrested control of the archipelago from Spain, which ruled over the islands as its colony for nearly four centuries since 1521.   In June 1991, the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in Zambales province buried the US Naval Base in Olongapo’s Subic Bay in ash and, months later in September, the Philippine Senate decided not to ratify the extension of the US bases treaty. No basing arrangement   “Any arrangement we have with the US or any other country will be done in conformity with our treaties, our laws and our Visiting Forces Agreement in particularly with the US, Carandang told reporters Friday.   “So we do not believe that any of these things will be violative of the law,” he added.   None of the current initiatives involves basing arrangements similar to what the country had prior to 1991, the Palace official noted.   “Hindi po tayo nag-iisip na magbalik ng US bases similar to Subic and Clark prior to 1991. No. What we’re really looking at is our enhanced defense cooperation,” he said.   While it is not yet clear if the new military arrangement with the US can be forged during a meeting between President Benigno Aquino III and President Barack Obama around the middle of the year, military matters are on the agenda of bilateral talks, Carandang explained.   “I’m not sure what kind of timetable we’re looking at. But certainly, defense issues have been part of the discussions of enhanced bilateral relationships. And when the President goes to United States, it… certainly, again… defense issues will be discussed. — VS/RSJ, GMA News