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Plan to expand U.S. military presence in Philippines assailed, defended

MANILA (Xinhua) -- The plan to expand United States military presence in the Philippines as agreed during the Jan. 27 bilateral dialogue in Washington, D.C. has been assailed by the country's groups but defended by officials of the government of President Benigno Aquino, III.
Teodoro Casino, a party-list member of the House of Representatives representing Bayan Muna (Country First), said that there is no need for the expansion of U.S. military presence in the country. He even called for a congressional probe into the planned deal.
"We were able to get rid of the U.S. bases and we are still fighting against the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), we do not need the government to once again sell out our sovereignty," Casino said in a statement.
The VFA, signed in l999, allows the temporary stay in the country of American military forces but only during joint military exercises and other non-combatant operations.  
Casino said that the review of the VFA, which the Aquino administration has agreed to, has not even started yet but "we are going to enter a new agreement that would further put us in a disadvantaged position."
According to Casino, the U.S. move to reassert its military presence in the Pacific Ocean is not merely intended to block China's so-called increasing dominance in the region but "to stave off the U.S. floundering economy."
Other groups also denounced the plan for increased military cooperation with the U.S..
Renato Reyes, secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Nationalist Alliance), has assailed the port calls in Manila and Cebu of two American warships, saying these "were already part of the heightened U.S. power projection in Asia as stated in the new U.S. defense strategy."
The U.S. embassy in Manila said that the U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer was to make a port call in Manila over the weekend while the USS Chafee was to visit the port of Cebu.
Reyes said that the U.S. may not even need formal bases in the Philippines given the access and virtual basing opportunities that they have now under the VFA.
But Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said that while the Philippines would accept an increased U.S. military presence in the country this would be in accordance with Philippine laws that ban the basing of foreign troops.
Del Rosario said that increased military presence could include more and more frequent joint exercises and a greater number of U.S. troops rotating through the country.
"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," Del Rosario said in a statement.
In the Washington dialogue, both the Philippines and the U.S agreed to shift into high gear their cooperation in maritime security, defense and law enforcement as provided for in the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) signed in l951 by the two countries.
"We reinforced the significance of our 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," the joint communique issued after the dialogue said.
Del Rosario said that if there would be threats to the country' s national interest, it should be prepared to deal with these issues diplomatically. "To complement the diplomatic approach we must at the very least also endeavor to achieve a minimum credible defense posture," he said.
In Malacanang, Presidential Communications Secretary Ramon Carandang said that there was a convergence of interests in the need of the Philippines to upgrade its defense capability and the U.S. desire to make its presence felt in the Asia-Pacific.
Carandang said the U.S. is not just talking to the Philippines on having their presence felt but also to other countries in Asia like Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Australia.
Del Rosario and other officials stressed that any U.S. military buildup would be in accordance with Philippine law, which bans any foreign troops from being permanently based in the country.
The U.S. maintained two large military bases in the Philippines but was forced to abandon them in l992 after the Philippine Senate voted down a new agreement crafted by the administration of the late President Corazon Aquino.  
But even without the American bases, a rotating force of about 600 U.S. troops has been stationed in Mindanao for the past decade but purely on non-combatant role, such as training Filipino soldiers in the fight against Islamic extremists. 
January 31, 2012 03:16 PM


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