RP, US renew logistics pact

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE United States and the Philippines have agreed to extend for another five years the Mutual Logistic Support Agreement that will cover the exchange of goods and services between them during joint military exercises.

Retired Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan, executive director of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement, said the extension came after a thorough review of the agreement, which expired last November.

“[The extension] is justified as both sides agreed that they will benefit from it. From the beginning, the MLSA was not considered requiring of Senate ratification,” Adan said.

Adan said that while the Visiting Forces Agreement refers to the movement of troops, “[The MLSA] is about the mode of transferring supplies and services in exchange for goods and services rendered.”

Adan said this could mean the Philippines may provide fuel for a US aircraft or ship and get something in return.

The military said that more US troops are set to arrive in the Philippines for another round of joint military exercises under Balikatan.

Adan, former Southern Command chief with control over Sulu, Zamboanga, and other places where US troops held war games, said that the MLSA has not and will not lead to the establishment of another American military base in the country.

“Not ever. First, it is prohibited under the Constitution. For me it is a non-issue,” he said.

Adan said the structures for the transient US troops during joint military exercises like their housing, barracks, and mess facility are part of “the requirements of present exercises or activities.”

Meanwhile, the Australian government has urged the Philippine Senate to ratify the Philippine-Australi a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement on or before June 2008.

Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Tony Hely said the proposed defense pact will allow for the joint training, education, and exercises of military personnel from Philippines and Australia.

The ambassador, who invited members of the press in his residence in Forbes Park, Makati City, said that he was hopeful that the defense pact will be approved this year.

“One of the things we’re hopeful for is that during the first half of the year, the Philippine Senate will ratify the Status of Forces Agreement,” Hely told reporters.

The SOVFA, which was signed May 2007 during President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s trip in Australia, was already ratified by the Australian Parliament in September 2007.

“[The Australian Parliament’s ratification] is a sign of [Australia’s] trust and confidence in the Philippines as a defense partner. We hope that the Philippines will reciprocate that trust and confidence by ratifying the SOVFA during the first half of 2008,” Hely said.

The ambassador acknowledged that the Senate was busy with its many legislative and oversight functions, including the debates on the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement.

“We recognize that the Philippine Senate has a lot on its plate, including JPEPA… and it’s not easy to find time… but we hope that it can look at the SOVFA in a positive, quick fashion,” he said.

The SOVFA will be the second defense pact for the Philippines after the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States.

Hely said the agreement was a “non-controversial good document.”

Hely said he expected that the civil society and militant groups in the Philippines will no longer criticize the pact since it is not a controversial one.

The RP-Australia Status of Visiting Forces Agreement is a bilateral agreement between the governments of the Republic of the Philippines and the Commonwealth of Australia concerning the status of visiting forces from each state while in the territory of the other state.