Philippines, US to sign new defence pact to allow larger US military presence

US soldiers walk at the airport after arriving at the air force base near Siauliai Zuokniai, Lithuania, on April 26, 2014. The Philippines and the United States will sign a new defence pact on Monday morning giving more US troops, warships and p
US soldiers walk at the airport after arriving at the air force base near Siauliai Zuokniai, Lithuania, on April 26, 2014. The Philippines and the United States will sign a new defence pact on Monday morning giving more US troops, warships and planes access to military bases in the Philippines. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

The Philippines and the United States will sign on Monday morning a new defence pact giving more US troops, warships and planes access to military bases in the Philippines.

Representatives from both sides would sign the "enhanced defence cooperation agreement" at 10am local time on Monday, just hours before US President Barack Obama lands in Manila for a two-day state visit, a defence department source said.

Details about the size and location of US deployments have yet to be made public, but the new arrangement is certain to give the US a significant military presence in the Philippines for the first time since it shut down its naval and air bases in Subic and Clark in 1992.

Philippine Defence Undersecretary Pio Batino, head of the Philippine panel, had said the agreement would help the Philippines achieve a "minimum credible defence posture".

That "posture" entails giving the US access to more Philippine bases, over which Manila will retain full control, according to previous statements jointly issued by the Philippine and US panels.

It also means allowing the US to "rotate" more troops, warships and planes for longer periods of time. The US currently has a 700-strong counter-terrorism unit active in southern Philippines, but it acts only in an advisory role.

The defence pact is also crafted to help the Philippines more easily acquire newer combat aircraft and warships, and set up up the infrastructure it needs to deploy these resources along its borders.

Another provision in the agreement is that the US will be able to build new facilities on existing bases to store humanitarian and disaster relief equipment.

US officials have told The Wall Street Journal not to expect any influx of additional American troops after the agreement is signed.

Any larger American presence is likely months or even years away. "We are not moving back in," one official said.

Public opinion has shifted towards greater support for a US presence in the Philippines following a rapid series of skirmishes in the South China Sea since December last year between Manila and Beijing.

Nationalist politicians who lobbied to oust the US two decades ago are still voicing opposition to the new defence pact, and some constitutional experts question the legality of any potential new pact.

rdancel@sph.com.sg

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