US, Philippines to sign new 10-year military pact

Security pact will be signed hours before Obama meets Aquino in Manila

MANILA – The United States and the Philippines will sign a new security pact on Monday allowing American forces an increased military presence in the Southeast Asian country now struggling to raise its defence capabilities amid territorial disputes.

The Enhanced Defence Cooperation agreement will run for 10 years, shorter than what the US was originally asking for, two senior government officials said on Sunday, asking for anonymity due to lack of authority to speak on details of the pact. But the deal is renewable depending on the needs of the two oldest allies in the Asia-Pacific region.

The agreement is a significant step in the US' pivot to Asia as it disentangles itself from costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It comes as China has strengthened its maritime presence in South China Sea after seizing control of Scarborough Shoal in 2012. The pact will be signed just a few hours before US President Barack Obama meets with Philippine President Benigno Aquino in Manila.

Philippine Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador Philip Goldberg will sign the agreement on Monday morning. The agreement allows the US to rotate ships, aircraft and troops for a period longer than the current maximum of two weeks during joint military exercises by the two nations, a senior military source told Reuters.

The US is expected to gradually deploy combat ships, a squadron of F18s or F16s and maritime surveillance aircraft, the same source said. Last year, there were 149 US navy ship visits to the Philippines, up from 68 in the previous year, and that number is likely to rise further under the new pact.

“We are considering bases in Northern Luzon like Clark and Subic, and Fort Magsaysay, to accommodate the US forces. We will set aside space in those bases for their troops,” the military source said. Clark and Subic were the two military bases maintained by the US northwest of Manila until 1991, when the Philippine Senate voted to evict American troops.

Eight years later, the Senate approved an agreement providing for temporary visits by US forces, allowing the staging of joint military exercises. The new military accord also allows the storage of US humanitarian equipment and supplies for disaster response such as generators, water purifiers, forklifts, tents and shelter materials, with some of these equipments already in the country and utilized after super Typhoon Haiyan devastated central Philippines in November.

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