Thousands march against US - Philippines military deal

Agreement clears way for increased US troop presence
Thousands march against US - Philippines military deal

US president Barack Obama is greeted by Philippines president Benigno Aquino in Manila on Monday. (Picture by FOCAP Pool)

About 2,000 protesters marched in Manila on Monday to condemn the signing of a new military agreement between the Philippines and United States that allows an increased US troop presence in the country.

Philippine and US officials signed the "Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement" shortly before US President Barack Obama landed in Manila for a two-day state visit on Monday.

But former Philippines vice president Teofisto Guingona, who led the protest march in Manila, warned that the agreement might be going "beyond the scope of previous military agreements."

US ambassador Philip Goldberg said the agreement will update the security alliance of both countries and "promote peace and security in the region". He said the US "does not intend to establish a permanent military presence in the Philippines."

American forces left their bases in Subic Bay in Zambales and Clark Field in Pampanga in 1992 after the Philippine Senate chose not to extend a treaty that allows the Americans to have bases in the country.

The new agreement, however, grants US troops access to designated Philippine military facilities, the right to construct facilities, and pre-position equipment, aircraft and vessels. The pact, however, rules out permanent basing, as the Philippine constitution bans foreign military bases in the country unless covered by a treaty.

There is no definite number as to how many US troops are allowed in the country. Numbers will depend on the scale and frequency of activities approved by the two governments.

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines called on the government to stop the "over reliance by the Philippines on the military strength and assets of the United States."

"The presence of a foreign army in our land is a direct challenge to our national sovereignty and integrity," said the Rev Rex Reyes, the council's secretary general.

"We call on the people to remain steadfast in guarding our sovereignty. Let us neither be deceived nor coerced to submit to this agreement that will add to our state of unpeace and proliferation of violence," Reyes said.

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