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Revive US Military Base in the Philippines
« on: January 24, 2020, 03:24:12 PM »
2014 by Manila Bulletin
US President Barack Obama's arrival in the Philippines in April should lend fresh impetus to faltering talks over the deployment of American military forces to Subic Bay, a strategic location overlooking the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The bilateral discussions began this past August, but are understood to have stalled over the status of new "temporary" facilities, which would house visiting US forces without contravening a Philippine constitutional ban on permanent foreign military bases in the country.

The latest, fifth round of talks on a proposed "framework agreement" on bilateral security ended on Jan. 31 without resolution, the US embassy in Manila said.

Manila will be Obama's fourth and final stop on his coming regional tour, the White House confirmed on Feb. 12, after Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia.

The slow progress of the talks with the Philippine government - an ally under the terms of a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty - has come as a surprise, given that the two sides share the same end goal, namely the stationing of more US forces in the Philippines.

*Rebalancing To Asia-Pacific

The Philippines is embroiled in a dispute with China over islands in the West Philippine Sea, and wants to increase the US' involvement in its security affairs, given China's military superiority over the Philippines' own, largely obsolete armed forces. The US, also with an eye on China, wants to make greater use of military bases in the Philippines as it implements a policy of "rebalancing" to the Asian-Pacific region.

The US embassy in Manila declined to comment on the substance of the continuing talks, while the Philippine Department of National Defense said it would publish details of the latest round of negotiations in due course.

However, the timing of President Obama's visit to the Philippines will prove fortuitous if it helps to resolve the impasse - or awkward, if it fails to jump-start the negotiations and produce the long-awaited deal.

"The sticking point is control," explained Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute of Political and Electoral Reform in Manila. "The US side is insisting on complete control over [any new facilities], and the Philippines is reluctant because of constitutional reasons. It's a question of symbolism, rather than substance."

Subic Bay was formerly one of the US military's most important naval stations in Asia, until the Philippines approved a new Constitution in 1987 that made the stationing of foreign military forces in the country illegal. As a result, the US military left Subic - and the Philippines - in 1992.

A 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement subsequently gave permission for US forces to return, provided they were only "temporarily in the Philippines.

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