Manila: The planned increase in American military presence in the Philippines should be within the limits stated in the Constitution, a senior lawmaker said.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, in a press statement, said the Philippines’ Constitution bars the permanent basing of foreign military forces in the country. Thus, US and Philippine diplomatic and defence officials must ensure that the premise of the basic law is not violated by the planned “rotational presence” of American military in the country.

“The American troops’ presence in the country is based on the Visiting Forces Agreement [VFA] which the Senate ratified. Given that, their presence must be governed by the terms of the VFA,” said Drilon as he referred to a pact signed by the Philippines and US in 1999.

Two weeks ago, Philippines Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin had announced that the forces of the United States would increase their presence in the Philippines. The planned heightened visibility of American soldiers in the Philippines was aimed at sending a reminder to the People’s Republic of China that the Manila and Washington are treaty allies.

Drilon said the Foreign Affairs and National Defence departments should brief the Senate on outcomes of initial talks between the Philippines and the US governments on the proposed expansion of the American military presence in the country.

No permanent base

“There was no part in the VFA that allows permanent basing. The framework agreement should be in accordance with the restrictions set forth under the VFA,” he added.

Earlier, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said there is no need for the Senate to ratify the planned increase in US military presence in the Philippines. Drilon, however, holds a contrary view.

Drilon vowed to scrutinise every detail of the framework agreement in order to ensure that it does not infringe on the Constitution.

“The devil is in the details. As a senator, it is my obligation to our people to ensure that any agreement the government will enter into is legal and in accordance with our Constitution,” he added.

Militant groups opposing American military presence in the country said the government of President Benigno Aquino III had been keeping secret controversial details of the planned US rotational presence in the Philippines.

Details under wraps

Secretary general of the left-wing Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Nationalist Alliance) Renato M. Reyes, Jr said: “Despite all the pronouncements of transparency, the Aquino government has kept the details of the ongoing negotiations for increased US rotational deployment under wraps.”

“Philippine officials should at least answer three basic questions. How many troops would be allowed to be stationed in the Philippines? How long will they be here? Where will they be stationed?” he added.

Aside from American forces, reports said plans are afoot for the inclusion of Japanese military in the planned “rotational presence” plan.