‘Our strategic partners need knowledge of PH terrain’
12:05 am | Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013
President Aquino said for the first time on Tuesday that the United States and Japan would have access to the former US bases in the Philippines to be able to forge a “credible alliance” but dismissed Chinese claims that Manila was provoking Beijing.
In an ambush interview in Camp Crame, Aquino stressed that giving the two countries access to the installations was “not permanent.”
The United States had maintained Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base—America’s largest overseas military facilities—until Mt. Pinatubo erupted in June 1991 and forced the shutdown of the installations. Three months later, the Senate voted 12-11 against renewing the Philippines-US Military Bases Agreement.
In 1999, the Philippines ratified the Visiting Forces Agreement allowing the United States to conduct joint exercises with Philippine forces in the country.
“Let’s clarify the access. They will not be a permanent fixture in the bases—but they are our allies. There are only two strategic partners that we have—it is America and Japan,” he said, explaining that “interoperability” was key to prepare forces allied with each other for any conflict.
This explains why the country has regular Balikatan exercises, which calls for “joint or shoulder-to-shoulder” military exercises, he said.
He stressed that failure to “coordinate” or “synchronize” the military deployment systems between forces of allied countries in case of a conflict “in my view is a wrong way to prepare, or no preparation at all.”
“So (foreign troops) need knowledge of our terrain, while we also need interoperability with them,” the President said.
Filipino troops can’t have military “practice outside of our territory,” he added.
“So it is but the natural circumstance of—if you want a credible alliance—then you will have to have mutual training and that will normally occur within our territory or the allies’ territory,” he stressed.
On Thursday, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin dismissed a foreign news report that the Philippines planned to build new air and naval bases that US forces could use to counter China’s creeping presence in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Gazmin clarified that the Philippines would instead give the United States, Japan and other allies access to its military bases.
In a front-page commentary, People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, warned last week that a “counterstrike” against the Philippines was inevitable if it continued to provoke China in the West Philippine Sea.
The commentary accused Manila of “seven sins,” citing its alleged “illegal occupation” of the Spratly Islands. It also blasted the Philippines for advocating the “internationalization” of the waters, a critical international maritime lane that has been under the close watch of Philippine allies, the United States in particular.
China issued its scathing criticism amid war games between the Philippines and the US Navy off Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal where a tense standoff between Philippine and Chinese ships occurred last year. At least three Chinese patrol vessels are known to still be in the area.
The Department of Foreign Affairs slammed China for issuing the “provocative statement.”
On Tuesday, the President shrugged off Beijing’s claim that the Philippines was trying to provoke the Chinese government.
“It is in the Constitution, we renounce war as policy—(it is) prohibited,” he said when asked what circumstances would prompt the country to go beyond rhetoric in convincing China to abandon its aggressive stance in asserting ownership of Philippine territories in the West Philippine Sea.
Aquino made it clear that his administration would always advocate peaceful means of ending its territorial dispute with Beijing.
“Now, as we’ve been saying, we need a calm and honest-to-goodness talk, so that we could reach a solution that would be acceptable to all sides. So we opted for arbitration,” he said.
The President described his decision to seek mediation from the UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea as the proper avenue so that “any state can pursue its own rights.”
The President stressed that, under his watch, the country would not risk a war with China, which is bigger and better armed both in conventional and nonconventional terms.
“We will try not to end up in any conflict since it seems contrary to our aim of peace and stability, and for all those involved in these territorial disputes to progress,” he said.
The President’s pronouncement belied what Malacañang deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte told the media on Friday.
Asked at a briefing if the planned access had been “green-lighted” by the President, she said that this was merely part of “proposals at the DND (Department of National Defense) level.”
Valte said that the DND was tasked to come up with proposals after “everybody has agreed on an increased rotational presence here, not just in the country, but the US also has announced that there will be a rebalancing of sorts in the region.”
“So knowing that there has already been an agreement on increased rotational presence, the DND is tasked with looking at how to operationalize this particular aspect and what was mentioned by Secretary Gazmin is but one of the modalities that they are looking into in order to operationalize that,” she said.
Valte said that “any proposal that will come out of it will certainly be done in accordance with the Constitution and the Visiting Forces Agreement.”
She stressed that the DND was “still studying” or “still in the process of looking at these things.”
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