Palace mum on defense pact with US

by Aurea Calica, The Philippine Star

Posted at Apr 27 2014 11:08 AM | Updated as of Apr 27 2014 07:08 PM

MANILA - Malacañang has given no indication whether the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the United States will be ready for signing by tomorrow’s visit of US President Barack Obama.

“We will await word from the panel,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said yesterday.

Coloma said nothing in the deal would come as a surprise since the provisions had been discussed publicly.

“Any agreement with any country will be open for public scrutiny in keeping with the administration’s commitment to transparency, accountability and good governance,” he said.

Philippine panel chairman Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino said the Philippines and the US panels are in continuing consultations on the agreement and will give “progress updates.”

The agreement is supposed to be the centerpiece of Obama’s visit but Malacañang said inter-agency vetting must be done as regards the implementation of the accord.

The key points of the agreement will also have to be reviewed by President Aquino.

The proposed agreement will allow the US wider access to Philippine military bases amid increasing tensions with China in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippine negotiators said there was consensus on key provisions and modalities that would reflect, among others, full respect for Philippine sovereignty, non-permanence of US troops and no US military basing in the Philippines and a prohibition against weapons of mass destruction.

The draft agreement grants the US access to and use of facilities and bases of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), but it will be at the invitation of the Philippine government and with full respect for the Constitution and Philippine laws.

The accord will also include the protection of the environment, human health and safety.

The negotiators said the proposed agreement would provide the Philippines the “critical and timely support” for AFP modernization to achieve a minimum credible defense posture.

It also provides for more expeditious humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and the provision of jobs and other economic opportunities through the procurement of local goods and supplies by the US military.