WASHINGTON D.C. - The 2nd Bilateral Strategic Dialogue (BSD) between the Philippines and United States begin discussions tomorrow on a host of issues that reportedly include an expanded American military presence in the Philippines.
Media reports here suggested both the Philippines and US are seeking an arrangement that would allow more American troops to be stationed in the country, even if only temporarily, to assuage fears by Southeast Asian nations against growing Chinese aggression in the region.
The BSD will be held for 2 days at the Department of State.
The Philippine side is composed of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy Erlinda Basilio and Defense Undersecretary for Legislative Affairs and Strategic Concerns Pio Lorenzo Batino.
The US will be represented by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Peter Lavoy.
The 1st BSD was held January 27-28 last year in Manila.
Officials from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, National Security Council, Department of Justice, Department of Finance and Department of Trade & Industry are also in town.
They include ranking officials of the Philippine intelligence community who are scheduled to meet American counterparts.
Philippine Embassy spokesman Emil Fernandez said the BSD will discuss regional and global diplomatic engagement, rule of law and law enforcement, economic and trade, and territorial defense and maritime security.
Earlier today, a forum on Philippine business opportunities was held at the Philippine Embassy in partnership with the US-ASEAN Business Council. The forum featured economist Dr. Bernardo Villegas who led a Filipino business delegation from the mining, real estate, infrastructure and outsourcing sectors.
The group is scheduled to visit next New York City and San Francisco.
Sources confirmed that part of discussions during the BSD will revolve around concerns over China and its activities in the disputed Spratly Islands that directly affect American policy interests on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Any disruption of sea routes there would impact key US allies like Japan and South Korea.
They declined to delve into details, saying there was still a lot of ground to cover in discussing the proposal.
The Washington Post said if a deal was made between the two military pact partners, it would resemble arrangements to base thousands of US Marines in Australia or station American warships in Singapore.
The Philippines has protested Chinese intrusion into its Exclusive Economic Zone and several instances of harassment on Philippine ships in the disputed Spratly Islands.
The US has about 300-500 Special Forces troops rotating in and out of forward bases in Sulu, Zamboanga and Basilan. They help protect US-funded infrastructure projects there and operate drones and electronic equipment able to intercept communications of Islamic extremists in Western Mindanao.
The Philippines is also building with US military aid a string of coastal radar stations in the region. There are proposals to expand the network to survey maritime traffic off Palawan, the country’s westernmost province and the nearest land to the Spratly Islands.