PH, Japan to begin VFA talks

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines and Japan are set to begin discussions on a visiting forces treaty that is expected to allow Japanese miltiary access to the country's military bases.

"It was discussed yesterday during our summit meeting with the Prime Minister (Shinzo Abe). Relevant entities will start discussions leading up to a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA)," President Benigno Aquino III, in Japan for a state visit, said in response to questions from a member of the Japan National Press Club.

It will be a treaty, not an executive agreement. "The Visiting Forces Agreement will have to be passed and approved by our Senate but we will be starting discussions on the details embodying this," Aquino added.

The announcement comes after Aquino and Abe signed the Joint Declaration of Strategic Partnership as the framework for an agreement on the transfer of defense equipment and technology and expansion of bilateral and multilateral trainings among others.

The two countries have stepped up maritime cooperation in recent years in response to China's  growing agression in disputed waters. (READ: Aquino repeats 'Nazi' remark vs China)

The Philippines and Japan are protecting their claims over islands and features in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and East China Sea, respectively. (READ: PH, Japan lash out at China island building)

Improved inter-operability

A VFA with Japan will improve inter-operability, Aquino said.

 

"It does not behoove a good partnership or relationship if you're not able to work at interoperability with the other. An agreement that even for humanitarian concerns that exists only in paper will not be effective when there comes a time that you would need to be in coordination and in cooperation or in joint operation with your strategic partners," he said.

 

The Philippines has Visiting Forces Agreements with the US and Australia, whose troops regularly come to the Philippines for military exercises, among other activities. The US military conducts regular visits to Philippine ports.

Japan and the Philippines also recently held naval drills in the South China Sea.

The Philippines is also expanding cooperation with the US through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), an executive agreement that allows the US military to preposition assets inside Philippine bases. It is pending before the Supreme Court over constitutionality issues, however.

The US is the country's oldest treaty ally. The Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) that was signed in 1951 requires both countries to come to each other's aid when a external party attacks the other. – Rappler.com