MANILA, Philippines - It will be up to China to interpret the ongoing talks on enhancing military cooperation between the Philippines and the United States, Malacanang said yesterday.
“Let China interpret that... We don’t need to send a message. The medium is the message,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said when asked if the government was trying to send a message to China with the negotiations on enhanced military partnership with the US.
The negotiations are being held amid China’s growing aggressiveness in staking its claims in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea. Recently, Chinese vessels drove away a Filipino ship carrying supplies to a small detachment of Marines stationed on a grounded World War II landing ship on Ayungin Shoal.
Lacierda said the arrangement being worked out with the US would help the country improve its defense capabilities.
He stressed any new agreement would be in accordance with the Constitution and Philippine laws.
“The reason why it helps is because there is some technology transfer, there’s knowledge sharing between the American forces and Philippine forces when they conduct military exercises,” he said.
“It improves the quality of the Philippines in terms of preparedness,” he added.
As the negotiations approach the final stages, the government has agreed to give the US access to Philippine military bases.
Officials earlier stressed “access” is different from basing rights. The US has repeatedly declared it has no intention of re-establishing bases in the Philippines.
A final deal is expected to be signed in April, to coincide with the planned visit of US President Barack Obama.
Under the Visiting Forces Agreement, US troops have greater rotational presence in the Philippines.
Citing their heavy involvement in the relief operations in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda, US troops would likewise boost the country’s disaster preparedness capabilities, according to Lacierda.
“Let me also emphasize that a part of this rotational presence is now focusing on disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction. That’s one of the big improvements, especially when it comes to increased rotational presence, where we saw the involvement of the American military when Typhoon Yolanda hit Central Visayas,” he said.
Lacierda stressed that the Philippines’ “multi-faceted” relations with China remain despite the maritime dispute.
“The Philippines has a multi-faceted or a multi-level exchange with China, so too with any country... You’ve got several relations, for instance, trade, cultural,” he said, noting that even the US also has different levels of exchange with China.
“So to connect one particular issue to a particular concern may not be necessarily accurate. You have to look at the entire exchange between the two countries,” he said when asked whether the US would dare confront a giant creditor, China.
“There are foreign policies, there are different levels of exchanges between the United States and China. So it cannot be tied to any one particular point,” Lacierda said.
He said the details of an enhanced military cooperation are still being finalized and that they definitely do not include setting up US bases in the Philippines.
“This is, again, only providing them access. We are very cognizant of the limitations imposed by the Constitution and other applicable laws. So the Philippine panel works around those parameters, and so there should be no issue as to permanent basing,” Lacierda said.
On concerns that any agreement would have to be ratified by the Senate, Lacierda said it would be best to wait for a final deal since there seemed to be differences in interpretation between the executive and the legislature.
He said Congress would definitely be informed by the executive about the agreement as was the case in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
“As to whether it would require confirmation, well, at least both sides have already stated their position, so let’s wait for the agreement, and see whether there should be a need for ratification,” Lacierda said.
He said “fear of a head-on clash” with the Senate is premature because “we have not reached that point yet, precisely because the details have not been completed.”