MANILA, Philippines - The seventh round of talks on a deal granting the US greater access to Philippine bases started Monday with an official citing the need for changes in the implementation of the defense pact between the two countries.
Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, chairman of the Philippine negotiating panel, said a new model for engagement is needed due to changes in the security environment.
“For the Philippines, our internal environment has changed as well, and we need to find a new model for our security engagement,” Batino said in his opening statement during the talks held in Camp Aguinaldo.
“We are very mindful of the need to make adjustments in the implementation of the MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty), to ensure that our constitutional requirements are fully observed,” he added.
The Philippines and the US signed the MDT in 1951 “to declare publicly and formally their sense of unity and their common determination to defend themselves against external armed attack.”
The treaty also aims to “to strengthen their present efforts for collective defense for the preservation of peace and security.”
Under the treaty, the US and the Philippines, separately or jointly, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attacks.
The Philippines agreed to provide the US greater access to its military bases to achieve “minimum credible defense” in the face of China’s aggressive acts in the West Philippine Sea.
Batino said changes have also taken place in the US as it seeks to rebalance to Asia.
“Over the past 60 years, this partnership has evolved, and we are challenged to continue to find ways to ensure that our alliance remains responsive to the changing regional security environment,” he said.
Batino said the proposed deal on enhanced defense cooperation would reaffirm the two countries’ shared commitment to their enduring alliance.
“As we seek to build a minimum credible defense posture, we are leveraging our long history of partnership to meet both traditional and emerging challenges and extend our areas of cooperation to new grounds, like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” he said.
Ambassador Eric John, chairman of the US negotiating panel, said the proposed agreement proves the “vibrancy” of the MDT.
“It’s something that can be strengthened through further implementing steps that we’re taking here with this agreement,” he said.
Militant groups greeted the resumption of negotiations with protests.
Members of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) held a rally in front of Camp Aguinaldo to oppose what they described as a “de facto basing agreement for US troops.”
“The Philippine government will violate the Constitution and our national sovereignty if it allows the unlimited and unqualified use of Philippine bases and facilities by US forces,” Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. said.
“The US will gain not only access to Philippine facilities but also be allowed to set up their own facilities within Philippine facilities. US forces will also be allowed to store weapons and equipment on top of stationing an indefinite number of troops in the country for an indefinite period of time,” he said.
He challenged the government to make public the draft it submitted to the US.
He said the Aquino regime is trying to sell the line that the country needs US bases to counter the threat of China. “Aquino is telling the people we need to welcome the bigger bully to fend off another bully,” he said. Reyes said Bayan is also readying an internationally coordinated protest activity, which includes the US and several Asian countries, in time for US President Barack Obama’s Asian trip. He said anti-bases activists from Japan, South Korea, Guam would join the activity.
“There’s a reason why our main focus of protests is the US government. It is because the US remains the biggest bully on the planet, flexing its military muscle everywhere and violating the sovereignty of nations,” Bayan said. – With Rhodina Villanueva