RP, US sign new anti-terror pact
First posted 04:31am (Mla time) May 25, 2006
By Nikko Dizon, Dona Z. Pazzibugan*
THE PHILIPPINES and the United States yesterday formalized a new security arrangement to bolster their battle against terrorism and other threats, according to officials from both countries.
The accord involves setting up a new joint panel called the Security Engagement Board (SEB), described in a joint statement by Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo and Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz Jr. as a "new consultative mechanism for cooperation on nontraditional security concerns," including terrorism, transnational crime, maritime safety and security, natural and man-made disasters, and pandemic outbreaks.
The SEB, co-chaired by the US Pacific commander and the Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, will develop measures to enhance cooperation between the two allies.
"The establishment of the SEB further strengthens our partnership," the statement quoted US Ambassador Kristie Kenney as saying, noting that Manila is Washington's longtime friend and major non-NATO ally.
US Embassy spokesperson Matthew Lussenhop said the creation of the SEB was a Philippine initiative and "it will provide a clearer framework for consultations and planning to address nontraditional security concerns."
Other members of the SEB from the Philippine side are the major service commanders of the AFP and representatives from the foreign and defense departments. Other board members from the US side are other major commanders of the US Pacific Command, the US Embassy chief of mission, and representatives of the US Department of Defense.
"The SEB is not a new treaty as it merely implements existing bilateral treaties with the US," Romulo and Cruz said in their joint statement.
Manila and Washington signed the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty that calls for cooperation in battling external security threats in either country. The two countries have also signed a Visiting Forces Agreement that allows US forces to join large-scale military exercises in the Philippines.
Officials said the SEB would allow both nations to jointly deal with terrorism and other threats not falling under the Mutual Defense Treaty.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, one of Asia's most vocal backers of US President George W. Bush's global war on terror, has allowed US forces to train and arm Filipino soldiers battling al-Qaeda-linked militants in Mindanao.
No US bases
At a news conference in Camp Aguinaldo, however, Cruz stressed the new security agreement would not allow US forces to reestablish bases in the country or to join local military operations. The Constitution prohibits foreign troops from engaging in local combat.
"That's very clear in the agreement, no American troops will engage in combat, no basing. We have to approve their every move. That's clear," Cruz said.
The bicameral Legislative Oversight Committee on the VFA shall also exercise oversight powers over the SEB.
Gilbert Asuque, spokesperson of the Department of Foreign Affairs, said Manila and Washington agreed to set up the mechanism in April when the two sides agreed to expand their partnership to address emerging security threats.
Although both Manila and Washington have justified US military presence in Mindanao as part of authorized joint military exercises, left-wing groups have questioned the legality of the presence of American troops near battle zones in Mindanao and have demanded their withdrawal.
"It's a very blatant way for the US to intervene in our domestic affairs," said Renato Reyes, head of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan, New Patriotic Alliance), the largest left-wing group in the country.
"They want to broaden that intervention. And this can be used by Mrs. Arroyo to get US support to stay in power. It's very dangerous," Reyes said.
Cruz said the SEB "affords us the opportunity to develop focused and comprehensive responses" to security threats.
He said the SEB was an emerging model for bilateral cooperation with neighboring states in Southeast Asia to address nontraditional military concerns.
*With reports by The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse*