Aquino backs US, Japan access to PHL bases

(Updated 3:46 p.m.) President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday expressed support for the plan to give the United States and Japan access to Philippine bases.

Aquino said it is only a "natural circumstance" to allow these countries into Philippine bases "to build a credible alliance" with them.

"Kung hindi tayo makikipag-ugnayan sa kanila at mag-aayos ng mga sistema kung sakaling may gulo na is, palagay ko, maling paghahanda ‘yon, walang paghahanda ‘yon," the President said.

He added that the presence of "strategic partners" on Philippine soil is necessary to make them familiar with the country's geography, particularly its terrain, which is important for military operations.

"Hindi naman siguro pwedeng magpa-practice tayo outside of our territory. 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 said.

The President, however, said that US and Japanese troops will not be "permanent fixtures" in the country's bases.

Military bases, territorial row

The President made these statements amid an ongoing territorial dispute with China over parts of the South China Sea. The Philippines refers to parts of the South China Sea as West Philippines Sea.

Last week, news agency Reuters came out with a report on the Philippine military's supposed plan to open up the country's bases in Subic, Zambales to American troops.

Due to the supposed plan, China's state media warned of a "counterstrike" in the South China Sea. The Chinese newspaper People's Daily even called the US as a "patron" and Southeast Asian nations as its "accomplice."

On Sunday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario "expressed serious concern" over the "increasing militarization" of the South China Sea.

China has long asserted its historical claim over the entire South China Sea. Manila, however, claims that some parts of the disputed area rightfully belongs to the Philippines under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Diplomacy still priority

Aquino further maintained that his administration wants a diplomatic solution to the Philippines' diplomatic row with China.

He said that the Philippine Constitution "renounces" war and that the government will do everything

to avoid violence.

"Parati nating sinasabi na kailangan ng hinahon, kailangan ng matinong pag-uusap, para dumating tayo sa isang solusyon na katanggap-tanggap sa lahat ng panig," he said.

Last January, the Philippines brought its territorial dispute with China before a United Nations tribunal, asking Beijing “to desist from unlawful activities that violate the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

Although China has rejected Manila's move to seek international arbitration on the South China Sea dispute, its government has already agreed to hold formal talks with Southeast Asian nations to come up with a code of conduct governing the disputed area.

Constitutional provision

The 1987 Philippine Constitution states that "foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate."

In 1991, the Philippine Senate voted to expel US military bases from the country by a historic 12-11 vote. Eight years later, the Senate ratified the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the US and the Philippines.

The VFA is a bilateral agreement which specifies how the Philippines and the US will determine jurisdiction over an American soldier involved in a crime committed in the Philippines.

Malacañang said over the weekend that the plan to give US and Japanese troops access to Philippine military bases will abide by the Constitution and the VFA. — KG/RSJ, GMA News

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