PH, US bases access talks resume January 30

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines and the US will resume on Thursday, January 30, negotiations for a military-to-military agreement that will allow increased rotational presence of US troops in the Philippines and will give them access to military bases here.

Round 5 of the talks will be held in Washington DC, Philippine panel chairman defense undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino told reporters on Friday, January 24.

The two countries began talks August last year. Panel members initially looked at 6 rounds of talks to finalize the agreement, but there have been disagreements.

Batino is optimistic there will be a deal, but he cannot commit if it will be finalized within the year. "We still have a very positive look. We are still making good time with respect to the period of negotiations," Batino said. 

The 4th round last October was difficult. The two panels disagreed on "critical provisions." 

The Philippines panel allowed the US to construct "temporary" facilities in the Philippines, but the US wants to limit the access of Filipino troops to these facilities. (READ: PH panel allows US 'construction' in PH bases)

"We're talking about access. We're talking about how we can enhance our defense cooperation with US," said Batino. 

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin earlier said the Philippines will insist on equal access. 

"We want access to both. It should not be limited to them. We want equal opportunity and equal access," Gazmin said in November. 

Rappler earlier reported that the Round 5 of talks happened in December. The defense department said the two panels only had "informal talks" to discuss the agreement. (READ: PH, US resume bases access talks after impasse)

The Philippines sought the assistance of the US, a treaty ally, against the backdrop of rising tension with China over maritime disputes.  

The Philippines is also acquiring critical assets to improve its monitoring of the disputed West Philippines Sea (South China Sea). – Rappler.com