(The Philippine Star) | Updated March 6, 2013 - 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court (SC) junked yesterday the bid of a group that urged the government to renegotiate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States after an American warship ran aground and destroyed a portion of the world famous Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea last January.
SC spokesman Theodore Te said justices voted in regular session to dismiss the motion filed by University of the Philippines law professor Harry Roque Jr. last month seeking issuance of a writ of execution for the implementation of the court’s ruling on Feb. 11, 2009 that ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs “to negotiate with the US government for a more equitable and just Visiting Forces Agreement.”
“The SC in an unsigned resolution denied the Motion for Execution filed by Atty. Harry Roque for lack of merit. The SC stated the petitioner should file the motion with the court of origin,” Te said in a text message.
Part of the 2009 SC ruling, which upheld the constitutionality of the
VFA, was putting up of proper detention facilities for US military service people under Philippine authority.
Roque, in his motion, said the recent grounding of the US minesweeper USS Guardian in the Tubbataha National Park, a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, prompted the filing of the motion for execution.
The 68-meter USS Guardian left Subic on Jan. 15 and ran aground in the Tubbataha Reef on Jan. 17 between 2:30 a.m. and 3 a.m. while the ship it was on the way to Indonesia.
Salvage teams from the SMIT Borneo, the US Navy, and the Malayan Towage and Salvage Corp. are now dismantling the ship to remove the vessel from the coral reef.
Roque, who represented former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. in the case, explained that a renegotiation of the VFA could pave the way for abrogation of the agreement.
Roque was both petitioner and counsel in the case before the SC, questioning the constitutionality of the VFA owing to the US’s forcibly getting custody of US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, who was then accused of raping a Filipina identified only as “Nicole.”
‘Rebalancing’ of US forces in PH tackled by Gazmin, US defense official
By Frances Mangosing
5:43 pm | Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
MANILA, Philippines—A senior official from the United States met with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin Tuesday morning at Camp Aguinaldo to discuss, among other things, the presence of US forces in the country.
The meeting is part of US Deputy Secretary of Defense’s, Dr. Ashton Carter, four-nation visit from March 17 to 21 for a series of consultations.
Part of the meeting included the discussion of “rebalancing” of US forces in the region.
“Ang rebalance na sinasabi nila, it’s a broad approach and a broad engagement of region, so tatamaan tayo in several aspects, economic, s’yempre isa na d’yan economic, tourism. Hindi ko lang sure yung mga scientific, yung mga technologies mga ganun, pero syempre other than the defense ang ano dyan yung engagement natin sa kanila is free, yung mga ganun, yun ang mga gusto nilang mangyari, parang mutually beneficial (What they mean about rebalance is that it’s a broad approach and a broad engagement of region, but it will cover several aspects, life economic and tourism. I’m not sure about scientific, the technologies, those things, but other than the defense, the thing is, the engagement with them is free. That’s what they want to happen, mutually beneficial),” Defense spokesman Peter Paul Galvez told reporters.
Last year, the United States announced they are moving 60 per cent of US Navy Fleet in Asia by 2020.
In a separate news release, the Department of National Defense that “frequent and energized” consultations are seen in the coming months to boost defense cooperation between two countries.
“The visits are a good way for us to strengthen our personal relationships with the people we usually work with. Both the Philippines and the United States will benefit with our frequent and energized consultations with our US counterpart,” Gazmin said.
Both officials also discussed in the meeting that lasted less than an hour the “central role” of the Philippines in the region and how to promote and enhance the existing peace and stability, the US support to the Philippine military’s capability upgrade and training of its personnel.
‘US won’t go too far in backing Phl, Japan in sea dispute’
By Pia Lee-Brago
(The Philippine Star) | Updated April 3, 2013 - 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines - The United States is likely to “press the brake” if tension involving the Philippines and Japan with China comes to a tipping point, limiting assurance and support to its treaty allies, a senior Chinese scholar said last Monday.
Ruan Zongze, vice president and senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), said the US is not expected to go too far in its support to the Philippines and Japan, as he emphasized that China will not engage in international arbitration initiated by Manila.
CIIS is the think tank of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It conducts research and analysis on a wide range of foreign policy issues.
Ruan, invited by the Chinese embassy in Manila to give a briefing to the media, said the Philippines is consistently pushing its own agenda to take advantage of the US rebalance in Asia, being its treaty ally.
“I assume the Philippine side sees that this might be the opportunity to assert the sovereignty claim over Panatag Shoal (Huangyan). Because you are a treaty ally of the Americans so they will support you. But China and US relationship is pretty solid and robust,” Ruan told reporters at the embassy.
“This tension must be managed under certain circumstances, but at the same time, if the tension comes to a tipping point, the Americans will press the brake. They are not going too far. Even our bigger dispute with Japan, will Americans really fight for Japanese over the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands? I don’t believe so,” he said.
Ruan said the US will assure its treaty allies of support but the assurance is “limited.”
He said China will be a very constructive player in the international community but “we will not engage in international arbitration.”
China’s decision not to participate in the arbitration process is Beijing’s choice and right, according to Ruan.
He said China viewed the Philippines’ action bringing the issue to international arbitration as a unilateral action to escalate the tension.
“That is another escalation of tension because let me put it this way, nobody can really address the sovereignty issue, even the United Nations arbitration,” he said, adding that patience is needed in resolving the issue through negotiation.
Meanwhile, former Western Command (Wescom) commander, retired Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, on Monday called for sustained pro-active actions in addressing China’s “squatting” technique, if only to establish their permanent presence within the country’s exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea. – With Jaime Laude
‘Balikatan’ kicks off Friday amid fears over US ‘major attack’
By Frances Mangosing
6:50 am | Friday, April 5th, 2013
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine-US “Balikatan” (shoulder-to-shoulder) military exercises kick off Friday amid fears that these are being used to prepare for a “major attack” by the US.
Expected to attend the event at Camp Aguinaldo are Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, Defense Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin, US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, AFP Chief of Staff General Emmanuel T. Bautista, AFP Command and General Staff College Commandant Major General Virgillo O. Domingo, and US Deputy Exercise Director Brigadier Generak Richard M. Simcock II.
Over 8,000 troops will participate in the joint military training scheduled until April 17 in Central Luzon.
After the US announced that it would deploy 20 of its air assets for the activities, 12 fighter jets or F/A-18 Hornets from the US military will arrive in Clark, Pampanga in the upcoming days, said Balikatan spokesman Major Emmanuel Garcia.
The “Hornets” are twin-engine supersonic, all-weather carrier-capable fighter jets, designed to attack ground targets which have been used by the US Navy as demonstration aircraft since 1986.
The USS Tortuga, the only US ship participating in the exercises, arrived Monday in Manila Bay.
Meanwhile, the Philippine military will use nine of its aircraft from the Philippine Air Force to assist Filipino and American troops in the ongoing Balikatan activities while the Philippine Navy will deploy one of its Islanders and two vessels.
This year’s Balikatan will be focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HA/DR), the fourth time it will do so since 2008 when the exercises started being held every other year.
Officials from Australia, Brunei, Japan, Republic of Korea, and Thailand will join with high ranking officers from the AFP and US Military in the Multinational Maritime Security Roundtable Discussion at Camp Aguinaldo.
Left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) criticized the staging of this year’s Balikatan exercises, saying “something sinister” is going on with the frequent docking of US warships the country and the rapid deployment of thousands of American military forces on frequent basis under the Visiting Forces Agreement.
“Are we in a state of war with a nation, which is not our enemy, but critical of Washington DC and the US military game plan of aggression in Asia and the Pacific? If not, how come the Philippine government has allowed more than 4,000 US military forces to come to the country on rapid deployment mode and rotation basis?” said Salvador France, vice chairperson of Pamalakaya in a press statement.
“Imagine an average of 3,000 to 4,000 US troops come here almost every quarter or semi-annually just for VFA. Just read between the lines the joint and separate statements issued by the US Embassy in Manila and the Office of the President and you will find out that the American mercenaries and invading forces of Washington DC are preparing for a major attack comparable to US war of aggression in Afghanistan. Iraq and Libya,” he added.
The Communist Party of the Philippines also warned about the deployment of US troops and its assets in the upcoming days, saying it is a “display of extreme contempt against Philippine sovereignty and a show of force in the face of heightened US war preparations in the Korean peninsula.”
“By pushing through with the Balikatan 2013 exercises amidst increasing military tensions in the Korean peninsula, the Aquino regime is allowing the Philippines to be dragged by the US government to its military conflicts against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” said the CPP.
“The CPP denounces the US military and government for deceiving the Filipino people about the real intention of the so-called joint military exercises which are being portrayed by the US as serving humanitarian assistance and disaster preparedness,” it added.
“For the past several years, the US has been using humanitarian and disaster operations in order to surreptitiously carry out combat and intelligence operations and setup their spy and communications network and infrastructure.”
MANILA, Philippines—The US defense secretary has reaffirmed Washington’s cooperation with the Philippines on defense, noting the country’s role in maintaining stability in the Asia Pacific, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Thursday.
In their first meeting since his appointment in February, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “assured” Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario of his nation’s steadfast ties with the Philippines and called for furthering cooperation amid mutual concerns in the region.
“Secretary Hagel conveyed to us the need for the Philippines and the United States to further deepen our partnership to uphold peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region. [He] expressed his appreciation for what the Philippines is doing in the region and noted that our partnership is critical in our part of the world,” Del Rosario said in a statement.
“He assured us the US will continue to do what it can to further strengthen its relations with the Philippines,” he added.
Del Rosario met with Hagel and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Tuesday following his talk with Secretary of State John Kerry at the state department in Washington, D.C., where both officials vowed to boost the US-Philippines strategic alliance.
The meeting came ahead of Friday’s kickoff of the Balikatan joint military exercise, where some 20 US air assets and a US Navy ship will also take part in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief drills.
In a separate statement, the US Embassy in Manila quoted Hagel as saying “he was pleased with the progress being made toward an increased rotational presence of US military forces in the Philippines.”
The embassy further said the Philippine and US sides “discussed US capacity building to support the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ modernization plans and regional security issues, including the South China Sea, the recent violence in Sabah and North Korea.”
Del Rosario also updated Pentagon officials on the Philippines’ decision to hale China before the United Nations arbitral tribunal to seek a halt to Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and invalidate China’s nine-dash line claim to resource-rich islands in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
China, however, continues to snub the proceedings, citing “indisputable sovereignty” over the disputed waters, but the arbitration process is expected to continue per UN protocol.
Inquirer Southern Luzon 12:05 am | Friday, April 12th, 2013
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—Let them go. Forgive and forget. This was the gist of what two ranking officials of the Chinese Embassy in Manila on Thursday were asking in trying to secure the immediate release of 12 Chinese fishermen accused of poaching in the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea.
But they were snubbed by marine park and defense officials.
Instead of listening to Consul General Shen Zicheng and Third Secretary Li Jian, officials of the Tubbataha Management Office proceeded to file bribery charges against the 12 Chinese fishermen, who were arraigned in a court here on Wednesday on charges of poaching.
Shen and Li arrived here on Tuesday and sought a meeting with marine park supervisor Angelique Songco, but were “quietly turned down,” according to a member of the Tubbataha Management Board.
The two Chinese diplomats refused to talk to reporters and returned to Manila on Thursday, said the board member, who requested anonymity for not having authorization to discuss the matter with journalists.
An official at the military’s Western Command (Wescom) here said the two Chinese officials tried to convince local defense authorities in a meeting on Wednesday to pardon the fishermen because their presence in Tubbataha, a protected marine sanctuary, was “unintentional.”
“They tried to convince us that this was all an accident and they did not intend to be there,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
The fishermen have been in detention here since their arrest by park rangers who found their vessel, the 48-meter Ming Long Yu, jammed onto the northern atoll of the world-famous marine sanctuary, 1,600 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass.
“We will seek to quickly prosecute and resolve this case,” Alen Ross Rodriguez, chief prosecutor of Palawan province, which has jurisdiction over Tubbataha, said.
“No one can just enter our waters and willfully destroy our marine life,” Rodriguez said.
Like the marine park officials, the security officials refused to listen to Shen and Li, the Wescom official said.
Lawyer Adel Villena of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, who assisted the marine park authorities in bringing the bribery charges, said the second case involved the Chinese fishermen’s offering park rangers $2,400 to let them go after their boat ran aground on the northern atoll of Tubbataha Reefs, a UN World Heritage-listed site, on Monday night.
“The second case was for violation of Article No. 212 of the Revised Penal Code concerning bribery of public officials,” Villena said.
“Possibly we are also going to file an additional case for judicial determination of fines,” he added.
The Chinese fishermen—Che Li Yong, Fon Lenl Yie, Zuan Ven Fe, Wang Yu Zhen, Lizhong Shen, Lizhi Ming, Liu Cheng Tie, Liu Wen Jie, Tung Zhue We, Tang Hai Ling, Wen Hong Min and Qi Vixn—face up to 12 years in jail in the Philippines on conviction.
No Beijing role
Despite the Chinese Embassy’s intervention, Malacañang on Thursday dismissed insinuations that Beijing was behind the unauthorized entry of the Ming Long Yu into Tubbataha.
“At this point, we’re treating it the way it looks, it’s a Chinese fishing vessel, not government-owned, and that it ran aground by accident,” Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang told reporters in the Palace.
“At this point, we have no reason to believe otherwise,” he added.
The filing of charges against the Chinese fishermen followed President Aquino’s promise of swift legal action to quickly resolve the violations of Philippine environmental and maritime security laws.
US Navy case
The Ming Long Yu is the second foreign vessel to run aground on Tubbataha Reefs this year.
On Jan. 17, the US Navy’s minesweeper, the USS Guardian, ran aground on the south atoll of Tubbataha, damaging over 2,000 square meters of coral reef in the sanctuary.
The Guardian had to be dismmantled piece by piece to prevent further damage to the reef, in a salvage operation that took 10 weeks.
The damage would cost the US Navy $1.4 million in fines, which environmentalists and some lawmakers find too small. They want the government to press the investigation to determine further US liability for the damage to the reef.
Responding to criticism of the government’s speedy legal action against the Chinese fishermen and its kid glove handling of the US Navy in the Guardian incident, Carandang said: “Those are two separate incidents. They are not apples to apples. One is a military ship of an allied country that was here with our permission, involved in our mutual defense. The other is a private fishing vessel, which was here without permission [and] for commercial reasons. So clearly, the different natures of these [incidents] necessitate different responses.”
The US Navy has relieved the four top officers of the Guardian while an investigation of the grounding is going on.
“We have an investigation that is proceeding with the Americans, and there are certain laws and practices that we have to abide by,” Carandang said.
He said the goals of the US internal investigation were to find out what really happened and to seek “some sort of reparations for the damages that admittedly were incurred.”
“Nobody believes that this was done on purpose so our idea is, if something happens again, there are certain processes in place that would ensure or that would provide for resolution or reparation,” Carandang said.—With reports from Michael Lim Ubac and AFP
DFA thanks US senators for draft resolution condemning China’s territorial claims
By Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
4:34 pm | Saturday, June 15th, 2013
MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines has extended its gratitude to members of the United States Senate for a draft resolution condemning Chinese incursions in disputed Asia-Pacific waters and calling for restraint and peaceful dialogue in settling territorial conflicts.
Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez on Friday welcomed US Senate Resolution 167, filed June 10 in an effort to ease tensions in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
The resolution, filed by US Senator Robert and his co-sponsors Senators Benjamin Cardin, Marco Rubio and Bob Corker, particularly cited China’s aggressive assertion of its nine-dash line claim in regional waters and sought to calm the tense air among claimants.
“We understand that the resolution has yet to undergo the necessary congressional process before it is passed by the US Senate, nonetheless, we extend our appreciation on the mere fact that some US senators have deigned it necessary to express their views on a fundamental issue that affects the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region,” Hernandez said in a statement issued Friday afternoon.
Hernandez said the Philippines “especially appreciates the reaffirmation of the peaceful resolution of disputes,” earlier expressed by top US officials in supporting the Philippines.
The resolution noted recent tension in Asia-Pacific waters, including Chinese incursions into the Ayungin and Panatag Shoals within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea, as the Manila government refers to part of the South China Sea.
It also cited China’s “unilateral steps” in laying claim to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands to the Chinese) in the East China Sea.
The resolution also made reference to the Philippines’ arbitration bid against China in the United Nations, a process that seeks to clarify maritime boundaries in the West Philippine Sea, stop Chinese incursions into the country’s EEZ and nullify China’s nine-dash line claim to the waters.
It sought the US Senate’s condemnation of “the use of coercion, threats, or force… to assert disputed maritime or territorial claims or alter the status quo” and “strongly urges that all parties… to exercise self-restraint” in undertaking their respective activities within the waters.
The Philippines, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have been asserting their respective claims to parts of the South China Sea while Japan and China bicker over the East China Sea islands.
The resolution also expressed support for peaceful and diplomatic means of settling maritime disputes and for the United States’ political and military role in maintaining stability in the waters.
MANILA, Philippines—The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (Itlos) has named the last of the five-member panel that will hear the Philippines’ arbitration case against China over their dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). This after the original fifth panel member resigned last month.
Judge Shunji Yanai, president of Itlos, appointed Thomas Mensah of Ghana, a former Itlos judge, as the fifth member in the arbitral tribunal that will deliberate on the Philippines’ case against China over maritime boundaries in the West Philippine Sea.
Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez said on Tuesday Itlos informed Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, head of the Philippine legal team handling the case, of Mensah’s appointment in a letter dated June 21.
Mensah, who was an Itlos member from 1996 to 2005, replaced Judge Chris Pinto of Sri Lanka, who resigned from the arbitration panel in May shortly after his appointment because his wife is Filipino.
“The country will present its case once the arbitral tribunal advises the Philippine legal team to meet on the procedures and schedules of hearing on the case,” said Hernandez in a press briefing on Tuesday.
Yanai appointed Itlos Judges Jean-Pierre Cot (France) and Alfred Soons (the Netherlands) in April and Stanislaw Pawlak (Poland) in March to join Judge Rudiger Wolfrum of Germany whom the Philippines nominated after it filed the arbitration case on Jan. 22.
The Philippines decided to take the legal action against China after exhausting all other means to peacefully settle their disputes in the West Philippine Sea, part of the South China Sea which Beijing claims is part of its historical sovereign territory.
The Philippines is seeking to halt Chinese incursions into its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea and to invalidate China’s nine-dash line claim to the waters, which the Philippines has repeatedly described as an “excessive declaration” of maritime territory.
China refused to participate in the proceedings from the outset, asserting its “indisputable sovereignty” over most of the South China Sea.
The Philippine Navy’s flagship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, is back in the waters near Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), this time not for a face-off with Chinese warships over disputed territory in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) but for five days of joint maneuvers with the United States Navy.
The Philippines’ first warship will be participating in war games with a fleet of American naval vessels led by the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald.
Panatag Shoal is a reef in the Philippine Sea claimed by both the Philippines and China and was the site of a maritime standoff between the two countries that lasted more than two months last year.
Far from Panatag
But the war games will take place 108 kilometers away from the disputed shoal, Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic, spokesman for the Philippine Navy, said last week.
With the joint maneuvers playing out that far from the shoal, reportedly still guarded by three Chinese coastal patrol vessels, the Philippines and the United States do not expect China to view the exercises as “intimidation,” Fabic said.
The war games, called Exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Carat) 2013, begin Thursday and will run up to July 2.
Fabic said holding Carat near Panatag Shoal and other areas off northern Luzon had been planned long before the standoff with China at the reef last year.
The Naval Forces Northern Luzon is the primary Philippine Navy unit responsible for the exercise.
“The Carat 2013 major objectives are to enhance the current Philippine Navy and US capabilities in naval operations … such as communication, naval gunnery, at-sea operations, maritime interdiction and humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations and increase the level of interoperability between the Philippine Navy and the US Navy in the conduct of combined naval operations,” a statement from the Naval Forces Northern Luzon said Wednesday.
It said the exercises would include in-port and at-sea events, individual and unit training, and engagement with the local community, among other activities.
Aside from BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15), a PN Aircraft (Islander), Special Boat Team, Diving Team of Naval Special Operations Group (NAVSOG), Construction Team from the Naval Engineers and Philippine Marine Corps company will participate in the military exercises “to test their readiness and capability,” the Navy said.
It added that the Philippine Coast Guard would have one of its flagships, the BRP Edsa, joining the war games, as well as a helicopter, its diving team, and a visit, board, search and seizure team.
Aside from the USS Fitzgerald, the US Navy will have its salvage ships, the USNS Safeguard and USNS Salvor in the waters off Zambales.
Members of the US Marine Corps and other specialized personnel will also participate in the war games.
The USS Fitzgerald was sent to the Korean Peninsula last April amid tensions between South and North Korea. It also participated in the joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea, rankling the North.
Technically, the Philippines and China remain in a standoff at Panatag Shoal.
Philippine ships withdrew from the shoal in mid-June last year at the height of a storm to ease tensions in the area.
But despite an agreement to withdraw, the Chinese ships never left and even cordoned off the mouth of the shoal’s lagoon to prevent the entry of fishing boats from other countries.
With nothing to match China’s military might, the Philippines took the dispute to the United Nations in January for arbitration.
The Philippines and China also have rival claims in the Spratly archipelago, a scattering of islets, reefs and atolls in the middle of the West Philippine Sea believed to be sitting atop vast deposits of oil and gas.
Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim parts of the Spratlys in rivalry with China, which claims nearly all of the sea as its territory.
Japan’s defense chief
China is also locked in a territorial dispute with Japan over a group of islands in the East China Sea known to the Japanese as the Senkakus but which the Chinese call Diaoyus.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin is meeting Thursday with Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, who is visiting the Philippines for two days.
Whether the meeting between Gazmin and Onodera has to do with their countries’ territorial dispute with China is unclear, as there was no word about it in the advisory issued by the Department of National Defense on Wednesday.
A recent news report from Japan Times (www.japantimes.co.jp/news) said that Onodera “plans to discuss with Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin the current tensions in the region and to work out a coordinated response toward China.”
But even this was unofficial, as the Japanese report quoted an unnamed government source.
From Manila, Onodera will fly to Hawaii supposedly to discuss with US officials its territorial row with China.
Wednesday’s advisory said that Onodera will arrive at the defense department at 10 a.m. and will be given arrival honors.
Limited press con
Onodera will meet with journalists after his call and lunch with Gazmin.
The advisory said Onodera would entertain “a maximum of two questions each from the Japanese media (including members of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines) and Filipino defense reporters.
The Philippines plans to give the United States and other allies access to its military bases under an arrangement that US forces could use to counter China’s creeping presence in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
But contrary to a foreign news report on Thursday that was attributed to unnamed Philippine Navy officials, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the Philippines would not build new air and naval bases.
China had already heard the news and warned that countries with territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea which look for help from third parties will find their efforts “futile.”
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the strategy was a “path of confrontation” and it would be “doomed.”
The Philippines and the United States on Thursday began five days of joint naval exercises off Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), a rich fishing ground within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone that China occupied after a maritime standoff that lasted more than two months last year.
Clarifying the report by the news service Reuters, Gazmin said the Philippines would allow the United States, Japan and other allies access to its existing military bases under an agreement that would be in accordance with the Constitution and the Visiting Forces Agreement.
The 1987 Constitution prohibits foreign military bases in the country.
“Let me clarify issues. No, we are not going to construct bases. We will be accepting access,” Gazmin told reporters.
The government is still preparing the access agreement, Gazmin said.
“After that (the agreement) is done, then we will be allowing it, if and when there is an agreement, access,” Gazmin said.
“Then there will be equipment coming in from the United States. Now as far as Japan is concerned, we do welcome other countries, particularly Japan since Japan is a strategic partner, in accordance with our existing protocols,” he said.
Gazmin spoke at a news conference with Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, who is in the country for a two-day official visit.
Peter Galvez, spokesman for the Department of National Defense, said the plan to move Philippine Air Force and Philippine Navy units to Subic Naval Base in Zambales province from Clark Air Base in Pampanga province was a result of the government’s “economic development plan for our regions outside Metro Manila.”
The plan includes decongesting Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila and expanding it to Clark, Galvez said.
“That will affect the current facilities,” he added.
He said the transfer of some of the Air Force’s aircraft to Subic was being studied.
Moreover, Subic has the deep-water port requirements of the Navy’s warships BRP Alcaraz and BRP Gregorio del Pilar, he said.
That Subic is near Panatag Shoal is only “coincidental,” Galvez said.
But China is suspicious about the Philippine bases plan.
Speaking at the Tsinghua World Peace Forum, Wang, without mentioning the Philippines, said countries that “try to reinforce their poorly grounded claims (in the West Philippine Sea) through the help of external forces” will find that strategy a “miscalculation not worth the effort.”
Wang’s comments came days before he is due to attend a meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Brunei, which opens Saturday.
The 10-member Asean hopes to reach a legally binding code of conduct to manage maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea. For now, a watered-down “Declaration of Conduct” is in place.
The Philippine bases plan coincides with the US “pivot” to Asia, a strategy that will see 60 percent of America’s warships shifting to the region before the end of the decade.
It would allow the United States and other countries with which the Philippines has visiting forces agreements to station warships, planes and troops within striking distance of Panatag Shoal and parts of the Spratly archipelago within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea that China insists are parts of its territory.
The plan comes amid China’s increasing assertiveness in staking its claims in the sea, sending large flotillas of fishing boats accompanied by warships on so-called fishing expeditions to areas within the territorial waters of the Philippines and Vietnam.
Vietnam and China have fought naval battles in the Paracels, an archipelago in a part of the waterway that Hanoi calls East Sea, while the Philippines has taken its dispute with China over Panatag Shoal to the United Nations for arbitration.
The Philippine bases plan has taken on added urgency since the standoff with China at Panatag Shoal, which Chinese ships now guard, often chasing away Filipino fishermen.
The West Philippine Sea dispute will again loom large over regional diplomacy next week when US Secretary of State John Kerry joins his counterparts from Asean nations and China among other countries for the annual meeting in Brunei.
The Philippines plans to raise the issue of Chinese ships’ “encroachment” near Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the Spratly archipelago in the middle of the West Philippine Sea where Manila recently beefed up its small military presence, diplomatic sources said.
China has accused the Philippines of “illegal occupation” of the reef, which is a strategic gateway to an area believed to be rich in oil and natural gas.