07 June 2012

'VFA should govern use of former bases by US troops'

MANILA - American troops, warships and planes will use the former US military facilities in Subic and Clark temporarily on rotation basis and in accordance with the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the military said yesterday.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. said the recent docking of nuclear-powered attack submarine USS North Carolina in Subic Bay is an example of this military-to-military arrangement.

“As long as they have coordinated and got clearance from the government and they comply with the VFA, we see no problem with that,” he said.

US troop presence on a temporary basis is expected to increase in Subic and in other areas in the country following US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s statement that they are increasing their military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Panetta declared that 60 percent of US warships would be redeployed in the region, a new US military strategy seen as an equalizer to the increasing Chinese naval might in the South China Sea.

Speaking to reporters after meeting Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Defense Undersecretary Honorio Azcueta said the US warships and planes can use the former US naval base and its airfield on a temporary basis while in the country, provided that these visits have prior clearance from the government and are in conformity with the VFA.

“They can come here provided they have prior coordination with the government,” he said. Azcueta said US troops, warships and fighter planes would be allowed access to their former naval base in Subic.

“That’s what we want... increase in exercises and interoperability,” he said.

However, MalacaƱang said US troops can only use Clark and Subic during joint military exercises.

Speaking to reporters, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said US warships will only be allowed to use naval and air facilities in Subic and in Clark during drills. American ships and submarines will be allowed to make port calls for refueling and supply replenishment, he added.

Due to the US shift to expand its presence in the Asia-Pacific, more requests for port calls of US warships and aircrafts are expected, Lacierda said. (Jaime Laude with Delon Porcalla, The Philippine Star)