MANILA - The Department of Foreign Affairs announced Monday the start of negotiations in expanding United States access to its bases, a move that would result in a greater presence of American troops in the country amid rising tensions with China.
In a statement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said negotiations for the Philippine-US framework agreement on increased rotational presence are necessary to ensure the security of the Filipino people and the stability of the region.
He said increased rotational presence of US forces could enhance deterrence and boost maritime security and maritime domain awareness even before the Philippine military acquires more ships and aircraft. He also noted timely and responsive humanitarian and disaster relief will be improved through the framework agreement.
Del Rosario said Philippine negotiators have been given parameters to ensure that the Philippine Constitution and laws are fully respected during the negotiations.
“Transparency is extremely important in these negotiations. Our people need to know that our laws are observed and our interests are protected at all times,” he said.
“Our region would also need to know that we are steadfastly for peace; but that we stand ready to tap every resource, to call on every alliance, to do what is necessary in order to defend what is ours, to secure our nation and to keep our people safe,” he added.
Several hundred US Special Forces troops have been on short term deployments in the southern Philippines since 2002 to help train local troops fighting Islamic militants.
The United States had tens of thousands of troops stationed in the Philippines, at the Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base north of Manila, until the early 1990s.
The United States, a former colonial ruler of the Philippines, was forced to abandon the bases amid anti-US sentiment and a row over rent. The constitution now bans any permanent foreign bases in the Philippines.
However Clark and Subic, now partly converted to business use, still host and service US military aircraft and warships on short-term exercises.
China claims most of the South China Sea including waters close to the shores of its neighbors including the Philippines.
Last year China seized control of Scarborough Shoal, about 230 kilometers (140 miles) off the coast of the main Philippine island of Luzon, after the Filipino navy backed down from a lengthy stand-off. With a report by Agence France-Presse