Details of PH-US defense deal still secret: Palace

by Jenny Reyes, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 15 2014 07:32 PM | Updated as of Apr 16 2014 03:32 AM

MANILA - The Palace on Tuesday said it will disclose details of the enhanced defense cooperation deal between the Philippines and the United States as soon as its provisions are finalized.

The eighth round of talks between the Philippine and US panels has ended. The two sides negotiated the terms of the joint agreement that will increase US military presence in the country.

Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said once the agreement is finalized, it will be submitted to the President for review and approval.

Until that happens, Coloma said he will not be able to disclose the details or the agreement.

Manila and Washington reached an agreement last week on the new security accord, which will allow American military forces to share local bases for maritime and humanitarian operations, a senior Philippine defense official said.

The two oldest allies in the Asia-Pacific region had been negotiating a new military deal for nearly eight months to increase U.S. rotational presence in the Philippines and improve its former colony's defense capability.

The pact will also raise the level of protection against China, which has strengthened its naval presence in disputed areas in the South China Sea after seizing control of Scarborough Shoal in 2012.

Pio Lorenzo Batino, Undersecretary of Defense and chair of the Philippine negotiating panel, said both sides had reached a "consensus on key points" during an eighth round of talks.

"The draft provisions on key points of an enhanced defence cooperation will be submitted to the president for his review," Batino said in a statement. The accord is expected to be signed during President Barack Obama's April 28-29 visit to Manila.

Jose Cuisia, the Philippine ambassador to the United States, said the Philippines stood to receive more US military assistance once the pact is signed. For this year, the U.S. allocated about $50 million in foreign military financing, nearly double the previous year's sum.

"It's up to the Philippine Armed Forces to determine what they need," Cuisia said. "I think they are looking at getting newer vessels."

He said Washington also promised to help acquire long-range maritime patrol aircraft to enable the Philippines to keep closer watch on its maritime borders in the South China Sea.

Military sources said the agreement would increase ship visits and deployment of surveillance aircraft. Last year, there were 149 U.S. navy ship visits, up from 68 in the previous year.

Batino said the agreement complies with the Philippine constitution, meaning US forces will have no permanent presence and will set up no military bases.

"United States access to and use of the armed forces of the Philippines facilities and areas will be at the invitation of the Philippines," he said.

The agreement, he said, excludes the import of nuclear weapons and also has "robust provisions on the protection of enviroment, human health and safety."

Coloma, meanwhile, said recent favorable developments in Philippine-US relations are not meant to expedite the approval of the agreement.

The US Agriculture Department recently announced its interest in importing more mangoes from the Philippines.

This comes on the heels of the announcement of the US Federal Aviation Authority that it is lifting restrictions on Philippine carriers.

Coloma said the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines worked long and hard to comply with international aviation standards that resulted in the favorable outcome.

Meanwhile, the report on increased import of mangoes is a welcome development since it will bring benefits to farmers and the agriculture industry, he said. - with a report from Reuters