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Philippines to negotiate with US for troop influx

Philippines to negotiate with US for troop influx
The Philippines is to enter talks with the US about a heightened military presence in its region and has informed congressional leaders that an increase in the troop numbers will be sought. The US has expressed interest in monitoring “intrusions” there.

Filipino secretaries of national defense and foreign affairs stated that allowing US troops to install an “increased rotational presence” would aid the country in developing a “minimum credible defense” to bolster the guarding of its own territory. The establishment of a full military base is ‘unconstitutional.

“The Philippines will shortly enter into consultations and negotiations with the United States on a possible framework agreement that would implement our agreed policy of increased rotational presence,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a letter.

Gazmin stated that US troops would only have access to existing military bases, with the two sides yet to agree the length for which further troops, planes and ships would be allowed in the country.

The Philippines is currently continuing in its attempt to modernize its own military, according to the letter, which was obtained by Associated Press, on Thursday, and seeks American aid while it takes the necessary steps.

The Philippines was established as a US colony in 1898 following the Philippine Revolution against Spain two years earlier. Partial autonomy was allotted in 1935.

It fell under attack during WWII when Japanese troops occupied its constituent territories. The US suffered heavy losses.

The US recognized its sovereignty in 1946. However, it retained a presence in the region.  

Tens of thousands of troops were stationed at the country’s Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base north of Manila until the early 1990s.

The bases were abandoned amid anti-American sentiment and a clash over rent. The Philippines’ senate voted to shut down large US bases in Subic and Clark, near the capital in 1991.

The Philippines’ constitution prohibits permanent foreign bases, but the US conducts successive short-term visits.

On Tuesday, the Philippines took into its possession a former US Coast Guard ship which marked the biggest military upgrade the country has witnessed in decades. It is seeking to build up its forces as increased attention falls on the region from both China and the US.

The establishment of US military bases in the country is controversial, and both countries are steering clear of the issue. The Philippines was once a US colony and the constitution now bars foreign troops from being stationed on a permanent basis.

However, island disputes in the area involving China have heightened Filipino pressure on the US. The Philippines has been reaching out to Washington for help in arms upgrades and the US has been seeking to ensure its influence in the region is sustained, especially as China’s increases as it reiterates its own claims to territory in the area.

The US has previously sought to increase military presence in the country by its own impetus, negotiating an agreement with the Philippines in July to let it install military equipment and increased numbers of troops, still avoiding the issue of establishing military bases despite seeker longer terms for US presence.

The negotiations for increased military access come amid simmering tensions between the Philippines and China over areas in the South China Sea claimed by both countries and moves by the United States to ensure it retains influence in the region, even as China’s grows.

The US is a close ally of the Philippines despite the exodus from the last of its bases in 1992. The US has paid several short-term visits since to undertake joint training exercises, disaster response and humanitarian work.

A Philippine Navy special operations group (NAVSOG) on board speed boats patrols off Subic Bay, facing the South China Sea, on August 6, 2013, as they wait for the arrival of the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, a high-endurance Hamilton-class cutter that had been decomissioned by the US Coast Guard and acquired by Manila. (AFP Photo / Ted Aljibe)

Under a current Visiting Forces Agreement, enacted in 2002, hundreds of US counterterrorism troops have been permitted to remain in the Philippines' southern Mindanao to train Filipino soldiers battling Al-Qaeda-linked militants and a small group of foreign terrorist suspects.

China aroused concern last year when it placed forcers in the Scarborough Shoal, a disputed territory just 124 nautical miles off the Philippine coast. China put up two concrete columns in order to erect a rope barrier to consolidate their control over entry into the lagoon. The move followed a confrontation with Philippine vessels.

Under Washington’s military financing program, the Philippines received a 46-year-old Hamilton-class cutter for free from Washington. However, it spent some $15 million on weapons and radar upgrades.

Before the increase in help from the US – which included a decision at the end of July to up annual military assistance to the Philippines from $30 million to about $50 million – Philippine Foreign Minister Albert Del Rosario told reporters that it would mark the highest level of aid provided by the US since troops returned to the Philippines 13 years ago.

The increased presence “is for the protection of our West Philippine Sea,” Defense Secretary Gazmin told the Associated Press at the time, referring to Manila’s adopted name for the South China Sea.

The US has repeatedly insisted that it would not get involved in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, but has continually helped the Philippines upgrade its military defenses.

US forces have been nurturing alliances from the Middle East to Asia, with force realignment involving 2,5000 marines being deployed in northern Australia and installing combat vessels in Singapore.