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Philippines to open talks on larger U.S. military presence

By Jim Gomez

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 05:21 a.m. HST, Aug 08, 2013

MANILA » Philippine officials say they will soon begin negotiations with the United States on a larger American military presence to help deter what they say is increasing Chinese aggression in Philippine-claimed waters in the South China Sea.

In a letter to Philippine congressional leaders, the secretaries of national defense and foreign affairs said that allowing American troops to have an "increased rotational presence" will help the country attain a "minimum credible defense" to guard its territory while it struggles to modernize its own military, one of Asia's weakest.

A larger American presence would also mean more resources and training for responding to disasters in a nation often battered by typhoons and earthquakes, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said in their letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday.

"The Philippines will shortly enter into consultations and negotiations with the United States on a possible framework agreement that would implement our agreed policy of increased rotational presence," Gazmin and del Rosario said.

U.S. officials were not immediately available for comment.

The presence of foreign troops is a sensitive issue in the Philippines, a former American colony. The Philippine Senate voted in 1991 to close down major American bases at Subic and Clark, near Manila.

The Philippine Constitution forbids foreign troops from being permanently based in the country, but the Senate ratified a 1999 pact with the United States that allows temporary visits by American forces.

Gazmin and del Rosario assured lawmakers that any new accord with Washington "will be consistent with our constitution."

Several of China's neighbors have been alarmed by Beijing's recent assertiveness in claiming large areas of the South China Sea.

Manila's desire to bolster its external defense and security has dovetailed with Washington's intention to pivot away from years of heavy military engagement in the Middle East to Asia, where it has been fostering closer economic and military alliances with countries such as the Philippines, partly as a counterweight to China's rising clout.

The realignment of American forces in the Asia-Pacific also involves the deployment of up to 2,500 U.S. Marines in northern Australia and the stationing of U.S. combat vessels in Singapore.

Gazmin has said that additional American troops would only be allowed to have access to the country's existing military bases under terms the Philippines would negotiate with the U.S. government. The two sides would have to negotiate the length of any agreement allowing more U.S. troops, planes, ships and other equipment.

Under the current Visiting Forces Agreement, hundreds of American counterterrorism troops have been allowed to stay in the Philippines' volatile southern Mindanao region since 2002 to train Filipino soldiers battling al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf militants and a handful of foreign terrorist suspects from Indonesia and Malaysia.

Gazmin and del Rosario stressed in their letter the importance of the Philippines' decades-old military alliance with the United States, saying "this relationship is useful not only in our diplomacy but also in enhancing our capabilities at the vital task of territorial defense."

The Philippines has reached out to the United States for help in modernizing its outdated fleet of warships and planes and in training its troops amid renewed tensions over the long-running territorial disputes with China.

President Benigno Aquino III said last month that foreign troops, if given access to local military camps, would not become a "permanent fixture." He stressed that while such an arrangement would allow the country to better prepare for any security contingency, the Philippines as a matter of policy renounces war and chooses diplomacy to resolve territorial claims.

Confrontations involving Chinese patrol ships and vessels from the Philippines and Vietnam over disputed islands and reefs have raised tensions in the potentially oil- and gas-rich waters.

China claims much of the South China Sea on historical grounds. The Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan have rejected Beijing's massive claims, sparking fears the disputes might turn violent and set off an armed conflict.

Confidential Philippine military surveillance reports seen by the AP said that 61 Chinese vessels were sighted in Manila-claimed areas of the disputed Spratly Islands from July 4 to 10. China has also turned Mischief Reef, which it occupied in 1995 amid protests from Manila, into a logistical base to help Chinese ships better patrol the seas.

China has also erected two concrete posts at the narrow entrance of a vast lagoon to erect a rope barrier and better control entry into Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground which came under Beijing's control after Philippine ships backed off from a tense face-off last year.

Associated Press writer Hrvoje Hranjski contributed to this report.

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808comp wrote:
They should have allowed the US to remain at Subic Bay to begin with.
on August 8,2013 | 06:09AM
Grimbold wrote:
The impoverished Philippines should pay the USA to have military bases there, not the other way around. Because the bases supply desperately needed income for of base local workers, who otherwise would live in rags only.
on August 8,2013 | 08:43AM
HawaiiCheeseBall wrote:
Wrongo sport. Subic Bay is one of the few bright spots in the Philippine economy. It is home to one of the biggest international shipyards. There are more Filipino workers employed there now than there were when we ran it as a naval base. There are more Filipino business and Filipino joint ventures there now that there were when we ran the base. On a recent visit my friend noted that a lot of the seedy bars that catered to our sailors and airmen are gone. sorry to tell you this but closing the naval base was one of the best thing they did for their country. The fact that we are having bilateral security talks with them is a positive thing, it shows the relationship between our countries are maturing. By having our future military partnership agreed upon mutually, through negotiations, it will shield us from charges of "imperialism" and other nonsense and our future military presence will benefit BOTH of our countries.
on August 8,2013 | 08:46AM
false wrote:
Well, they wanted to kick us out... and they did... so we should drive a hard bargain now that they want to return.
on August 8,2013 | 06:55AM
ready2go wrote:
Wouldn't it be cheaper and safer to work with Australia?
on August 8,2013 | 07:06AM
localguy wrote:
Where have you been? We already are working with Australia, will have a rotating contingent of US Marines stationed there plus other military assets. However Australia is too far from the South China Sea to act as a deterrent. Philippines one of the countries having issues with China, we need to be there to be effective.
on August 8,2013 | 08:17AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Phillipino President, "Eh China you better watch out and no mess with us or I going sick Obama on you".
on August 8,2013 | 07:10AM
pcman wrote:
Defense of American interests of trade, commerce, travel, business, education, diplomacy, military forces, offensive operations against international terrorism, sea piracy and combat contingencies and US aid to natural disasters and humanitarian relief would be improved with basing in the Philippines. Australia is still 2-4 hours away from SE Asia and 4-8 hours away from Taiwan to Korea. Philippines is 2 hrs away from SEA and 2 hrs away from North East Asia. As was shown in Benghazi, 2 hrs away from US interest makes a big difference between life and death of Americans.
on August 8,2013 | 07:46AM
Dragonman wrote:
They have no military forces to speak off. Someone correct me if I am wrong but I believe their navy consists of a few refrubished old US coast guard cutters and their air force consists of about ten or so aircraft that is used mostly for trainning puropses and used for combat only in emergencies. I agree with false, we should drive a hard bargain this time around. We don't want to spend millions/billions over there only to have them kick us out when it suits them.
on August 8,2013 | 08:09AM
Morimoto wrote:
I think their navy consists of a few converted fishing boats with mounted AK-47s and sheet metal for armor plating.
on August 8,2013 | 09:48AM
HD36 wrote:
China's making a bid to gain status for the Yuan as the world's reserve currency. Bilateral trade agreements and the developement of trading notes backed by gold would destroy our currency overnight. Look for a false flag event if the dollar falls below 70.36. The voice, my source in Germany, has told me that the G20 nations are preparing to bypass the dollar.
on August 8,2013 | 09:25AM
Morimoto wrote:
Looks like the Phillipines still needs a handout. It's been that way ever since the Spanish arrived and will continue to be that way for at least the next 500 years. I kind of feel sorry for them, but then again they brough it among themselves.
on August 8,2013 | 09:49AM
inHilo wrote:
"They brought it among themselves"? in recent history, first the Spanish colonized them, then the United States, then WWII turned the country into a battlefield with some of the bloodiest fighting of the war, and they brought it on themselves?
on August 8,2013 | 10:26AM
Morimoto wrote:
I'm actually talking about the current situation. They keep relying on foreign forces to help them, well guess what, all that help doesn't come without consequences. They keep inviting foreign military to be stationed (temporarily or not) on their soil and then complain about all the problems it brings. They kind of remind me of people on permanent welfare. They never seem to be able to help themselves, while other countries (Japan, Germany, even China) seem to have risen from the ashes and are able to stand on their own two feet today. The Phillipines has been destitute for 400 years, and nothing will change that.
on August 8,2013 | 11:16AM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
They kicked us out and now they want us back?......unless there is a substantial strategic advantage for the US to be there...otherwise forget it.....
on August 8,2013 | 10:09AM
Charliegrunt wrote:
You're right! When they did not need us, they asked us to leave. Now that they feel threatened, they want our naval and military forces there to protect their okole. I hope we don't cave in unless it is in our best national strategic interest, IF this administration can ever develop a strategic plan, which has been notable by its absence over the last five years. Then, let's make sure that is done in accordance with terms that favor us.
on August 8,2013 | 10:48AM
oxtail01 wrote:
Just say no. The Filipino Government only knows corruption as a way of life and whatever money US sends them will end up in the pockets of the corrupt few (remember Marcos and their cronies?). Of all the countries in the region, the Philippines stands out as a country that have made the least economic and social progress. From petty thievery to out and out massive corruptions, the Filipinos are masters at it!
on August 8,2013 | 12:57PM
sailfish1 wrote:
Fine as long the Philippines pay to build facilities there where the U.S. military can stay. The U.S. does not want to pay AGAIN for facilities and then get kicked out.
on August 8,2013 | 02:15PM
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