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The plan to increase American forces' rotational presence in the Philippines allows the United States to effectively reestablish a military base on its former colony, a noted political analyst has said.
"It's going to be a US military base, because it looks, walks, waddles, sounds, and smells like a military base," Ateneo de Manila University political science professor Benito Lim said of the proposed plan.
Another political scientist, Rommel Banlaoi, a senior fellow of the De La Salle University's Yuchengco Center said the framework agreement may become a magnet for anti-American elements and sentiments.
"Ang mga Amerikano ay major target ng terrorist groups like al Qaeda. Kung may American presence dito, we can also invite anti-American groups to operate in the country," Banlaoi said.
DFA: Modernization, deterrence, disaster relief
In a statement on August 12 announcing the start of negotiations of a “framework agreement” that will govern the rotational presence, Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario made no mention of military bases, but he repeatedly spoke of modernization.
The DFA chief also said Filipino negotiators “have been given parameters that require them to ensure that our Constitution and laws are fully respected. They have been tasked to ensure that Philippine interests are preserved and promoted.”
Philippine ambassador to Washington Jose Cuisia earlier said the framework agreement would allow American and Philippine forces to conduct joint operations better through intensified joint training of their air, naval and ground troops and pave the way for more U.S. military assistance to the country.
Scretary del Rosario laid out several expectations:
- That modernization can begin even before we are able to purchase the necessary defense systems;
- That deterrence can be enhanced even before modernization;
- That maritime security and maritime domain awareness will be given a boost even before we have ships and aircraft that we need;
- That even before we have the advanced hardware we wish for, we will know how to operate and maintain them; and, equally important,
- That our ability to provide our people and the region with timely and responsive humanitarian and disaster relief will be vastly improved.
Article XVIII, Section 25, of the Constitution states that “foreign military bases, troops, or
facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”
The Philippines and the US have a visiting forces agreement (VFA) and negotiations on guidelines that will govern the rotational presence of US troops are scheduled to start on Wednesday.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman, Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan, Jr. said technological exchanges between the Philippines and the US may involve drone operations depending on how the drones will be used.
Tutaan said drones are prohibited if these are used for "boots on the ground" or actual combat operations.
"If these are within the Mutual Defense Treaty and the VFA, then it can be allowed. But do not generalize the whole drone operations. Dapat tingnan natin ang specifics. It depends kung anong klase ang sinasabi. Pwede namang in terms of technological exchange, training, humanitarian assistance or civil affairs... (Drone operations) is a very general term," Tutaan told GMA News Online.
In a March 2012 Agence France-Presse interview, President Benigno Aquino III said the Philippines only allows US drones to conduct reconnaissance flights over Philippine territory. Strikes from these unmanned vehicles are banned.
But the assurances do not assuage the apprehension of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. that the Philippines might become the US military's “launching pad for drone strikes which would be against our national interests.” — Marc Jayson Cayabyab/ELR, GMA News