POSTSCRIPT / December 17, 2013 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Allow US access with conditions

ACCESS: The United States is seeking “easier and greater access” by its military personnel to areas in the Philippines where they may be mutually needed.

This was announced over the weekend by the US State Department as State Secretary John Kerry prepared to fly back to Manila to discuss alliance issues with President Noynoy Aquino and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.

As expected, Kerry plans to also visit Tacloban City and chat with some survivors of super typhoon Yolanda. We wonder if he would take time to talk with Mayor Alfred Romualdez.

The whole world knows that the consultations with Manila are mainly a security matter related to keeping the rampaging Chinese dragon in check. There is no need for the US to say that it wants access to enable it “to respond to disasters and crises.”

Responding to natural disasters and going on humanitarian missions do not require a bilateral agreement. Like a heartbeat, such activities suggest themselves at the spur of the moment when calamity strikes.

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THE CONTEXT: A similar point was raised by the unfortunate political haggling between DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and a sweating Tacloban Mayor Romualdez before whom lay a devastated city littered with debris and decaying corpses.

Spontaneously helping Yolanda victims should come naturally, like a heartbeat, to administration officials – if their hearts are in the right places.

It was unseemly for an unelected Secretary Roxas to demand of an elected city executive to first sign a waiver or an authority before national agencies helped his distressed constituents.

Roxas said the terms of Romualdez’s surrender were taken out of context. Why, did not the secretary see the grim context of hundreds dead or dying, with thousands more starving and getting sick while exposed to the elements?

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MUTUAL SECURITY: In the high-level haggling over “easier and greater access” of US military personnel, the context is – let us not kid ourselves — mutual security and Chinese expansionism.

To bring in the element of OCCASIONAL natural disasters as an argument to gain CONTINUING access may be a good public relations move, but it is unnecessary.

Security threats are enough to justify temporary access by forces of a mutual defense treaty partner, especially now that China has been brazenly grabbing bits and pieces of Philippine territory within its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

The only prohibition imposed by our reactionary Constitution is on the permanent basing of foreign troops without cover of a treaty concurred in by the Senates of both countries.

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VFA OPTION: Both Washington and Manila are aware of the constitutional ban on a return of permanent US bases. For mutual benefit, they are looking for ways to go around it.

One way out has been found — the Visiting Forces Agreement that allows and defines the status of foreign forces temporarily assigned in the country.

Although not a treaty, the VFA has opened the door a bit. But the opening is not wide enough to meet US strategic plans in the Pacific where it is redeploying 60 percent of its naval forces in a rebalancing or pivotal shift.

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MINIMUM CONDITIONS: My opinion does not matter, but for the record I favor giving reasonable access to American forces under certain minimum conditions:

1. American forces, whose service and strength are to be pre-agreed upon, should stay temporarily on Philippine bases subject to oversight rules of Filipino base commanders.

2. The US must pay rent for the use of base facilities at a rate not below that in 1992 when the old bases agreement was terminated.

3. The VFA’s criminal jurisdiction section should be amended to give Philippine courts original and exclusive jurisdiction over all cases filed by Filipinos against US personnel for alleged violations of domestic laws committed on Philippine soil.

4. The usual duty certificate (that the erring US serviceman was on official duty at the time) will be honored only if it will be shown that the accused was in proper uniform, not under the influence of prohibited substances, and was doing what he did as part of his official duties.

5. The US must purchase from the local market an agreed minimum percentage of the supplies of its forces assigned in the Philippines.

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ON THE RISE: Porac, the largest town of Pampanga in terms of land area, may be likened to the Phoenix rising from its ashes.

In just a little over two decades, the town that received the brunt of the fury of Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991, has risen back to its feet and joined the fierce competition for local and foreign investors.

The 419-year-old municipality (pop. 70,000) has caught the interest of Makati’s “big boys” led by the Ayala Group planning to develop a 400-hectare property in Hacienda Dolores, part of the 1,000-hectare area it had acquired from the Puyat family.

Porac Mayor Condralito dela Cruz reported the good news last Friday at the forum of the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) at its Bale Balita (House of News) in the Clark Freeport. The forum is co-sponsored by the Clark Development Corp. and the Social Security System.

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AYALA PROJECT: Development of the property into a modern commercial-cum-residential community will begin early next year, Dela Cruz said, boosting job opportunities and the tax income of the municipality.

The Ayala project will feature a commercial business district, state-of-the-art mass transit system, high-end residential enclaves, respected educational institutions, as well as modern water and power utilities.

Last year, the town’s revenues (including its internal revenue allotment or IRA) reached P90 million. This is forecast to hit P120 million this year, Dela Cruz said, noting that the Ayala venture alone will greatly boost Porac’s income.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 17, 2013)

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