Negotiating rights


Government officials have taken great care to describe the so-called negotiations between the Philippines and the United States to increase American military presence in the country in soothing constitutionalist or strategic terms. It is what is not being said, however, that worries us.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, for instance, assured the public that the meetings will be “guided by the principles of strict compliance with the Philippine Constitution, laws and jurisprudence; Philippine sovereignty; nonpermanence of US troops in Philippine territory; nonexclusivity of use of facilities by the US side; and mutuality of benefits.” It is important to assert these five principles, if only to emphasize that the Aquino administration has learned its lessons from the fraught history of Philippine-American negotiations.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario made the strategic case. “Our region needs to know that we are steadfastly for peace but that we stand ready to tap every resource, to call on every alliance, to do what is necessary to defend what is ours.” The first two infinitives demonstrate a new emphasis (but an old reality) in Philippine foreign policy; now, in the midst of the ongoing territorial dispute with China, it seems that Manila is openly calling in its markers.

But do these meetings, currently ongoing in Camp Aguinaldo, deserve to be called negotiations? A member of the Philippine panel, Assistant Secretary Carlos Sorreta of the Department of Foreign Affairs, explained the process in detail. “Activities under this proposed agreement will be covered by our Visiting Forces Agreement. The legal basis for increased rotational presence exists in these two agreements. What we will be negotiating will be modalities and the kinds of activities.”

Maybe. But both the Philippine and American governments are agreed on the need to increase US military presence in the country; both assume that increasing the number of US troops and the opportunities for training for Philippine soldiers side by side those same troops will lead to a more credible defense posture for the Philippines; both recognize that a resurgent China with expansionist ambitions require some kind of pushback—containment in old geopolitical speak. What is there to negotiate?

The notion that the meetings require a “framework agreement” pushes the negotiation metaphor too far; the Americans are not exactly an insurgent group, striving to integrate itself into a sometimes-hostile, sometimes-inhospitable body politic. For one thing, the US government enjoys the advantage of Philippine-wide popularity which continues to elude the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The use of that standby, “terms of reference,” would have sufficed.

Every single official who has spoken on the matter has also taken pains to use a crucial modifier: “rotational.” Thus, Sorreta: “increased rotational presence.” Thus, Del Rosario: greater “rotational presence.” Thus, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte: “The increase, if ever, in the rotational presence …”

The idea, of course, is that rotating the deployment of American soldiers in the Philippines means there is no need for permanent facilities or basing rights, and thus no need for a prolonged and public struggle to draft, debate and ratify a new treaty.

But as we have pointed out more than once, in the last decade or so US military presence in the Philippines has in fact been all but permanent. The soldiers, indeed their units, may come and go, and even the forward deployment sites may be changed, but at any given time there are hundreds of US troops stationed in the Philippines. Government officials must first address this winking violation of the Constitution, for any talk of increased rotational presence to be genuinely credible.

We are also concerned that there is no talk at all, from the government’s side, of an exit strategy, a timetable by which we can measure the supposed improvements in interoperability and training and readiness.

The most important lesson from the complicated history of Philippine-American relations is that the United States has interests of its own, and they never coincide with ours for long. The Obama administration’s so-called pivot to China seems to align with Philippine security needs at the moment—but there is no telling when new conditions will lead the United States to cut, and cut cleanly.

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  • 007

    The surest way to make the US interest coincide with our national interest for long in our defense against China is to link (a) Al-Qaeda, (b) Terrorisim and (c) China together. Once we have that, the US can start using our runways to drone attack Chinese encroachment. But that’s just my imagination running wild.

    • upupperclassman

      Hahaha! Your wild imagination is living up to a fake 007.

  • AllaMo

    Play the ho. Pay the ho. Don’t beg to give it away to john for free.

  • kayanatwo


    nobody asked me, but…just recently india and japan commissioned its new “aircraft carrier”. the naval power and ship’s construction build up by these 2 economic power giants is the tell-tale signs from both country’s military strategists’ point of views, that there would be a long protracted issues concerning their EEZ with their neighboring countries in the horizon.

    the projection of sea power and capability to build or acquire men-of-war and to deploy it is the name of the game in our hemisphere. vietnam would soon receive its new shipments of submarines from russia. the thailand royal navy has its first aircraft carrier and its flagship (VSTOL) HTMS Chakri Naruebet, and pakistan navy received from the USN a decommissioned ex-oliver hazard perry class guided missile frigate (FFG-8 McInnerny) to upgrade its naval power.

    the way i look at it, our naval power and AF are no match with any of our asean or neighboring asian country’s naval fleet. but the presence of US naval power in our neck of the wood would be a deterrent factor to discourage any unfriendly naval power encroachment to our country’s EEZ.

    IMHO, the presence of US naval power in our shores could help us to buy more time until we have enough resources and wherewithal to fully modernized and equipped our navy and air force.

    • upupperclassman

      If we will stop pretending to be an independent country, then US visiting forces can visit permanently and in any number desired.

  • Fulpol

    you are negotiating with the US.. OMG, you are really a loser..

    what are the subjects of negotiation??

    very well, a loser always has no negotiating power..

    US: “you need us more than we need you”.. CDQ says: “crisis or no crisis, we don’t need you”.. but the beloved Presidents says: “we badly needed the US military”..

    so, PH is in the loose end of the negotiating table.. the loser, indeed..

  • Descarte5E

    whether the Philippines like it or not, US military will always be around, their way never Philippine way… with pivot to Asia, the US forces is even increasing, and its not because of Philippine issue with China, it’s all about America maintaining it’s power.
    There is a US base in South Korea, Okinawa Japan, in Taiwan, VFA in the Philippines and many other bases and stations throughout the Pacific, same with the Atlantic region.
    Anyway, one can’t hide much anything more from them, as you see from google map that the public can see a car parked in front of a house. And that google map is for public use only and it already show to that very detail image. The US military can still zoom to a size as small as the human face. Look up the sky and you will feel paranoid that somebody else is looking at you. Well, you hide under the roof but the GPS will just use infrared image.


    One of the emphasis on this editorial is for the government to give a time frame on the so-called “rotational basis” of US visits. Hahahahaha! So naive. How could someone put a time frame on it when there are external main significant variable factors to be considered (i.e. can you predict a time frame when would the Chinese stops its crusade of territorial expansion that would affect the Ph.?). Stupid!
    The agreement should be a “CALL-OFF” contract…
    So many mediocre editors nowadays! Hahahahaha!

  • upupperclassman

    What negotiating rights are we talking about here. Philippines is like the eager bride clinging to the bridegroom to conclude a one sided pre-nuptial agreement.

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