PH, US resume defense talks

By Pia Lee-Brago, The Philippine Star

Posted at Apr 11 2014 04:53 AM | Updated as of Apr 11 2014 12:53 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines and the US on Thursday resumed discussions on the proposed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement to further strengthen the security partnership of the two countries.

The eighth round of negotiations from April 10 to 11 will have both panels working on the agreement that would grant American troops greater access to the country’s military bases.

The agreement also seeks to increase capabilities to respond to natural and man-made calamities, officials pointed out.

Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, chairman of Philippine negotiating panel, said the discussions highlighted the vital importance of increasing capabilities to respond to natural and man-made calamities, referring to lessons learned from recent experiences in the country and in the region.

“Both the Philippines and the United States recognize this added key dimension to this updated framework of defense cooperation and we are working together for the realization of the full potentials of closer partnership in ensuring timely and adequate humanitarian assistance and disaster relief responses,” he said.

Batino said other significant benefits from the agreement under negotiation is the critical and timely support for the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, achievement of the country’s minimum credible defense posture and provision of jobs and other economic opportunities through the local goods and supplies procurement that will be made by the US military.

The Department of Foreign Affairs earlier said the agreement being negotiated with the US is expected to further enhance the security alliance between the two countries.

The agreement is seen to ultimately support the Philippines’ efforts to modernize its military and build a minimum credible defense posture.

The scope of the agreement will include, among others, improving interoperability, addressing short-term gaps, promoting long-term modernization, reinforcing maritime security, deepening maritime domain awareness and strengthening humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities.

The Philippines is working out the defense agreement with US amid China’s increasing assertiveness over the West Philippine Sea.

On Wednesday, China warned the Philippines and Japan against testing what it called “national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” saying they could quickly assemble their military to fight and win any battle.

Malacañang said the Philippines maintains its commitment to pursue all diplomatic and peaceful settlement of issues amid the warnings made by Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the filing of the arbitration case before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea was not meant as a provocation, insult or challenge for China to take an adverse action.

He also said any ruling on the arbitration case would serve as reinforcement to the country’s claims based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

This was well in accordance with the rule of law as well as peaceful and diplomatic means to resolve issues, Coloma said.

Defense spokesman Peter Galvez said China should be circumspect in issuing such statements.

Galvez said they would continue to support peaceful means to resolve the territorial row in the West Philippine Sea.

“What is important is we approach all these things peacefully and the soonest that we approach this peacefully, the sooner the region can expect all the development and growth which is the target aimed for not just by Filipinos but everyone in the entire Asia Pacific,” he said.

China virtually claims the entire South China Sea while the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have overlapping claims.

China is also embroiled in a territorial dispute with Japan over the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea.

Japan vowed to strengthen its security ties with the Philippines and to further cooperate on the defense of remote islands, territorial seas and maritime interests.

The Philippines recently filed a memorial or written argument before the UN arbitral tribunal hearing its case against China’s excessive territorial claims.

Galvez dodged questions on whether the recent statement from the Chinese defense minister would help in maintaining peace and stability in the region.

“We will try to achieve what will be necessary to defend the nation,” Galvez said.

Meanwhile, several senior Australian military officials and military strategists from other countries are visiting the Western Command (Wescom) in Palawan for a security update in the maritime region.

The 11-man military contingent came from Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand and Oman. The team is headed by retired Australian general Mick Kehoe, staff of the Australian Center for Defense and Strategic Studies.

The group visited Wescom to enhance awareness of major security issues involving Australia and its allied countries, including the Philippines. – With Aurea Calica, Alexis Romero, Jaime Laude