MANILA - Talks on increased US rotational presence in the Philippines have hit an impasse as a deal has yet to be reached on US facilities to be set up.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the Philippine panel had disagreed with some of the US proposals.
“It is at the stage where there is negotiation so it’s a give and take process,” he said. “Right now, we have not agreed on the issues raised.”
Gazmin said among the issues that need to be threshed out is the access of Filipino troops to the temporary US facilities.
“They have proposals that we do not agree with,” he said in Filipino. “But that’s how negotiations are. These will be discussed until such time when the parties agree.”
The US and Philippine panels are also fixing problems on the wording of the agreement, he added.
Gazmin is optimistic that the negotiations, which he described as a “give-and-take process,” will move forward.
“I don’t think (negotiations) will collapse,” he said. “I am very optimistic that these issues will be resolved. Of course these are difficult at first but eventually, there will be processes that will lead to understanding.”
Gazmin said the agreement should provide equal opportunity and equal access to both parties.
“Everything should be beneficial to the Philippines. That is the major idea,” he said.
The presence of US forces is a controversial issue as some sectors believe it will violate Philippine sovereignty.
In 1991, the Senate voted to shut down US bases in the country.
Eight years later, Congress ratified the Visiting Forces Agreement allowing US soldiers to hold joint drills with Filipino troops.
The Philippines and the US have adopted a policy of increased rotational presence amid China’s recent actions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Security officials believe providing temporary access to US troops will help the country attain a minimum credible defense.
Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino leads the Philippine panel comprised of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Carlos Sorreta, Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III and Defense Assistant Secretary Raymund Quilop.
State Department senior negotiator for military agreements Eric John heads the US panel consisting of State Department Attorney Advisor Elizabeth Jones, Brig. Gen. Joaquin Malavet, and Capt. Greg Bart.
Philippine officials said the negotiations will be guided by the principles of strict compliance with the Constitution, laws and jurisprudence, Philippine sovereignty, non-permanence of US troops in Philippine territory, non-exclusivity of US use of facilities, and mutuality of benefits.
The two panels have completed four rounds of negotiations, but have yet to schedule a fifth round.