US President Barack Obama on March 5 boards Air Force One. (Saul Loeb / AFP)
MANILA — The Philippines said Saturday it would not rush to complete a defense accord with the United States just so it can be sealed by the time President Barack Obama visits next month.
President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman Herminio Coloma said there was no timetable to complete the agreement which would allow more US troops and equipment access to the Philippines.
The agreement, which the two close allies have been discussing for several years, is seen as part of a Philippine effort to counter China’s aggressive moves to back its claims to most of the South China Sea.
Asked by reporters if the accord would be completed before Obama’s visit, Coloma said, “the government’s priority is not with a timetable or with rushing something.”
“In our view, it is not deadlines but the quality and content of the agreement that is more worthy of attention,” he added.
Coloma also hailed the just-concluded Philippine-US bilateral strategic dialogue in Washington where both sides expressed concern for “recent developments” in the South China Sea as well as the need to respect international law and freedom of navigation in those waters.
“The outcome of the dialogue affirms the principles underpinning the strategic partnership between the two countries,” he said.
Many observers believed the agreement would be completed ahead of Obama’s visit to the Philippines as part of an Asian tour in April.
The Philippines has been hoping for increased US assistance for its poorly-equipped military amid growing territorial tensions with China.
China claims virtually all of the South China Sea, a major shipping lane that is also a rich fishing ground and is believed to sit on vast mineral resources.
The Philippines along with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam all have competing claims to parts of the South China Sea.