by Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News
September 2, 2013
MANILA – President Aquino received visiting US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Malacañang where both sides discussed the situation
in the South China Sea and the status of the negotiations to allow increased rotational presence of US forces in the Philippines as part of the US rebalancing strategy in the Asia-Pacific.
Hagel reiterated the US’ commitment to its Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the Philippines, describing the alliance of two countries as “deep and unbreakable.”
“President Aquino and I reaffirmed the progress being made in the ongoing discussions for our framework agreement. This agreement
will strengthen cooperation between our two militaries and help them work together more effectively,” Hagel said in a press briefing.
Hagel stressed that the US is not seeking a permanent presence in the country.
“The United States does not seek permanent bases in the Philippines. That would represent a return to an outdated Cold War mentality. Instead, we’re using a new model of military-to-military cooperation befitting two great allies and friends. We’re looking to increase our rotational presence here as we have done in Singapore and Australia,” he said, adding that the arrangement would help the Aquino administration’s efforts to modernize the Philippine military.
Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin confirmed that Subic Bay is just one of the facilities that US forces can access under the arrangement.
“As soon as the framework agreement is complete, we will provide the necessary access to all these facilities, and this is not limited only to Subic but to Philippine military facilities, if necessary.”
Gazmin said the agreement will involve “high-value, high-impact projects which necessarily increases the participation of forces.”
“So we suggest the enhanced engagement with US forces, which necessarily would mean more forces and more engagements,” Gazmin said.
US REJECTS “MILITARIZED ATTEMPTS” TO CHANGE STATUS QUO IN SOUTH CHINA SEA
Meantime, Hagel urged nations involved in the maritime disputes in the South China Sea to resolve conflicting claims peacefully and without the use of force.
He expressed support for the Philippines’ move to bring its conflicting territorial claim with China before an arbitral body.
“United States supports ASEAN efforts to negotiate a South China Sea code of conduct which will help peacefully manage disagreements and tensions with rising and competing territorial and maritime claims. In the meantime, we encourage nations to peacefully resolve their disputes through internationally accepted mechanisms and in accordance with international law, including the law of the sea and without coercion or militarized attempts to alter the status quo,” Hagel said.