Philippines to give US forces access to up to 5 military bases

MANILA (REUTERS) - Up to five Philippine military bases will be made available for US forces to rotate aircraft, ships, equipment and troops, Manila's chief negotiator of a new security pact said on Friday, as the Philippines looks to counter China's rising power in the region.

A new 10-year military agreement - the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) - also covers storage of equipment for maritime security and humanitarian assistance. It was signed with the United States last week, hours before President Barack Obama arrived for a two-day visit to Manila.

"Right now, the discussions would be ranging from three to five Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) bases," Mr Pio Lorenzo Batino, a defence undersecretary and head of the negotiating panel, told a news conference. "That's not final."

He said the army's jungle training base in Fort Magsaysay, north of Manila, was "ideal location" for the United States because the two oldest allies in the region regularly hold joint exercises there.

Military sources familiar with the discussions said the United States has also requested access to three former US bases - Clark airfield, Subic bay, Poro Point - and Camp Aguinaldo, the military general headquarters in Manila.

The US is also considering whether to seek access to four civil airports - Palawan, Cebu, General Santos, and Laoag - as well as Batanes airfield for refueling and emergency servicing, the sources said.

There are also nearby bases in Cebu and Palawan. Defence and military officials said the EDCA will boost the Philippines' defence capabilities.

Territorial disputes have made the South China Sea, believed to have rich deposits of oil and gas, a potential flashpoint for the region. Other countries with competing claims include Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

China has become increasingly assertive in the disputed waters, seizing control of Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and has been blockading Second Thomas Shoal, where a Philippine Navy transport ship was deliberately run aground in 1999 to establish a presence.