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Philippines Still Seeking More Money for U.S. Bases : Military: Officials say they’re closer to a deal on extending the leases but far apart on a price. Talks move to Washington later this month.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The United States and the Philippines have moved closer to extending leases for American military bases at least until 1998, the centennial of the U.S. colonial occupation here, but they ended a fifth round of negotiations Saturday still far apart on how much Washington must pay.

After six months of often contentious talks, the two sides hope to complete an agreement leading to a treaty when Raul Manglapus, the Philippine foreign secretary and chief negotiator, visits Washington later this month, spokesmen for the two sides said. All previous talks have been held in Manila.

Officials said the current proposals apparently will allow the United States to negotiate for continued access, or further lease extensions, before any new agreement expires.

Philippine panel spokesman Raul Rabe said his government had offered to allow the United States to continue using Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Station for seven years in exchange for $825 million a year. The compensation package includes $400 million in cash and $425 million in debt relief, trade allowances and other development assistance, he said.

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The United States has asked to stay for 10 years, and offered $320 million annually, including $200 million in military assistance and $120 million in cash grants. An additional $160 million a year would be pledged through a multinational aid initiative, and $40 million would be given in development assistance. The United States has not previously linked that aid to the bases.

U.S. spokesman Stanley Schrager said both sides were determined to “find innovative ways” to resolve the problem. “I think, clearly, compensation is the only major remaining issue,” he said. “And compensation is linked to duration.”

The Philippines initially had demanded a full U.S. withdrawal after five years, while the United States had asked for a 10- to 12-year transition with continued access into the future. The United States has about 16,000 military personnel in the Philippines, although reductions are planned.

“Our proposal is the longer we can stay, the more we can pay,” said a member of the U.S. negotiating panel. “Their proposal is the more you pay, the longer you can stay.”

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He and other officials said Washington is unlikely to meet the latest Philippine demands, given congressional budget restraints and growing disenchantment with President Corazon Aquino’s struggling government.

Washington is paying Manila $440 million this year in military and economic assistance for use of the two giant bases, plus three small communications facilities and a rest and recreation camp. Those four installations are being turned over to the Philippine government.

One of the sites, the San Miguel naval communications station in central Luzon, was turned over to the Philippines in January. A U.S. official said scavengers stole several hundred feet of chain link fence, and several thousand feet of underground electric cables. The United States has agreed to repair the facility at a cost of $10,000.

Previous negotiations have bogged down on such intricate details as who will cut the grass on the bases, who will deliver the mail and run the taxis, who will profit from fast-food restaurants, whose currency and drivers’ licenses will be used, what immigration and customs procedures will be enforced and whose courts will have jurisdiction on sensitive cases.

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Those issues have now been resolved, officials said, but lower-level talks will continue this week on specific base operations. The Pentagon wants to preserve its military airlift command and pilot training at Clark, plus ship repair, resupply and other functions at Subic. The two bases are among the largest overseas.

Philippine officials previously have suggested an American pullout would be appropriate in 1998, since it is the centennial anniversary of the U.S. capture of Manila in the Spanish-American War, and, ultimately, of U.S. colonial control of the Philippines.

Manglapus will be under severe pressure when he visits Washington, since he was heavily criticized for compromising Philippine national interests when he concluded the current financial package for the bases in Washington in 1988.


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