Tuesday, February 07, 2012

PH, US to push through with high-level talks in March — DFA

MANILA, Philippines – Next month’s high-level talks between the Philippines and the United States on expanding Washington’s military presence in the country will push through as planned, contrary to some reports, according to Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.
Del Rosario told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, on Monday, that the meeting has been “tentatively scheduled for March,” adding “I have not heard otherwise (from the US side).”
Citing informed diplomatic sources, another Manila newspaper reported last weekend that the talks might have to be postponed unless the Aquino administration could come up with specific proposals on where to keep US warships and spy planes on a rotational basis.
The report also claimed scheduling was another issue because of the difficulty of coordinating the timetables of the principals, referring to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on the US side, and Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, their Philippine counterparts.
Panetta had allegedly wanted “substantive deliverables” ironed out before the high-level conference, said the same report.
A Manila-based news radio station made the same reports.
On Jan. 27, Manila and Washington issued a joint statement following the completion of their second bilateral strategic dialogue in the US capital, where they looked forward to “continuing our high-level consultation at a joint ministerial meeting” next March between Del Rosario, Gazmin, Clinton, and Panetta.
The two sides also highlighted “upcoming opportunities for further high-level engagements, including a visit by US Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro to the Philippines in February.”
During their Jan. 26-27 dialogue, the two allies reaffirmed their “commitment to fulfill the vision of the 2011 Manila Declaration through an invigorated and expanded alliance capable of addressing 21st century challenges.”
They referred to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty as the “basis for the alliance and the treaty’s continued relevance to the peace, security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific.”
They “committed to further enhance cooperation …in security, defense, commerce, law enforcement, human rights, and disaster relief,” as they also “agreed to deepen and broaden our maritime security cooperation.”
Also on Jan. 27, Del Rosario said the Philippines would accept an increased US military presence in the country, but emphasized that this would be in accordance with Philippine law, which has banned the basing of foreign troops.
In a press statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs chief explained increased military presence could include more and more frequent joint exercises and a greater number of American troops rotating through the country.
“It is to our definite advantage to be exploring how to maximize our treaty alliance with the US in ways that would be mutually acceptable and beneficial,” said Del Rosario.
He did not specifically mention China as driving the Philippines’ push for a greater US military presence, but highlighted “territorial disputes” in his statement.
Del Rosario’s comments expanded on views expressed by Philippine defense and military officials who confirmed a Washington Post report that the US and the Philippines have started talks about expanding bilateral military cooperation in response to the growing assertiveness of Beijing.
Sometime in mid-January, Del Rosario told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Manila was set to take up the controversial 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, noting “VFA talks are a priority for the DFA.”
He said they would “try to have a commission (that will hold consultations with Washington) as early as possible.”
Del Rosario and Gazmin are co-vice chairs of the Presidential Commission on VFA, which is headed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.
The PCVFA “recently came out with a resolution designating the DFA to take the lead in undertaking discussions with the US on issues of mutual concern related to the VFA,” disclosed Raul Hernandez, the DFA spokesperson.l
Hernandez said “the designation of the DFA as the lead agency and related actions to implement the decisions made by the PCVFA are part of the steps leading to the conclusion of the review.”
The DFA-based PCVFA, created on Jan. 1, 1999 under Executive Order No. 199 to monitor compliance with the provisions of the VFA, began reviewing the pact in late 2010.
PCVFA Executive Director Edilberto Adan earlier said the review aimed to “look at the most contentious issues and ensure the VFA provisions continue to make this agreement relevant and serve the national interest.”
Meanwhile, the militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) asked Malacañang, on Monday, to “come clean on the extent of the participation of US troops in the Sulu raid that killed alleged Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah Islamiyah leaders.”
In a statement, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said “the timing of the news of the air strike is suspect, coming in the wake of reports that more US troops are headed our way.”
“As an Inquirer columnist pointed out today, was it really the Philippine Air Force that conducted the bombing or did the US use unmanned Predetor drones? The involvement of US troops in the air strike indicates their involvement in combat operations here, an act prohibited under our laws,” Reyes also said.
On the 113th anniversary of the Filipino-American War on Saturday, the Bayan leader said: “Yes to the return of the Balanggiga bells and no to the return of more US troops and ships.”
“US-Philippines relations remain one-sided and violative of our interests and sovereignty. The gross historical and continuing injustice by the US to the Philippines should end now. Start with the return of the bells, then move on to the abrogation of the VFA,” he added.
1:49 pm | Monday, February 6th, 2012

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