MANILA – The Philippines and the United States on Wednesday opened talks on increased American military presence, amid protests by leftist groups warning against foreign interference.
Filipino activists hold up placards as they stage a lie-in before a police line during a protest against a meeting between Philippine and US officials in Manila on Wednesday. The protesters were opposing the talks over an increase in US military troops in the country. (AFP photo)
Activists picketed the principal military base in Manila, where the first round of negotiations on a “framework on increased rotational presence” was being held.
The demonstrators denounced the talks and called on the Philippine government not to give the US military more access to the country, which shut down American air and naval bases more than two decades ago.
They carried placards reading, “Stop selling out Philippine sovereignty by allowing more US troops in the country” and “Fight for genuine freedom. Assert national sovereignty.”
Student protesters also marched to the US embassy, carrying placards with anti-US sentiments and burning a mock American flag that featured skulls instead of stars.
Philippine Defence Undersecretary Honorio Azcueta urged negotiators to do their best to ensure that the framework “will redound to the best interest” of the two countries.
“We begin our negotiation . with the end view of coming out with a framework that will further enhance our existing robust defence relations,” he said.
Philippine authorities earlier said the framework would enable the United States to keep equipment and develop defence facilities in the country, without violating a constitutional ban on the permanent presence of foreign troops or the establishment of foreign military bases.
The talks are being held amid territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, which have prompted Manila to seek to upgrade its military capabilities to better protect its territories over alleged increasing incursion of Chinese vessels.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa urged Manila to ensure that any boost in its defence relations with Washington would not work against unity and solidarity in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
“We have every confidence that the Philippines in developing its traditionally strong relations with the US, will continue to do so within the framework of the Asean spirit,” he said on the sidelines of an Asean meeting in Hua Hin on the South China Sea disputes.
“We have to be smart about developing relations outside of Asean, but we have to have clear benchmarks on the norms and principles under which they should be working in our region _ namely complying with the Asean spirit and complying with Asean centrality,” he said.