The United States is close to concluding an agreement on use of two large, strategic bases in the Philippines, according to Philippine and U.S. officials here.
The agreement. which must be approved proved by the U.S. Congress, would set the compensation in U.S. military and economic aid to be paid for use of the bases and put them under Philippine control, with only some areas reserved for the U.S. military, the officials said.
Negotiators have apparently given up for the time being their search for a new formula covering Philippine jurisdiction over crimes committed by American military personnel. This particularly sensitive issue has helped the talks over a new bases agreement drag on for more than two years.
Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile said today that President Ferdinand Marcos and U.S. Ambassador Richard Murphy both have said the negotiations on the military aspects of the agreement will end before the end of the year.
"There are still some problems with jurisdiction," Enrile said.
The two sides have come close to agreement on use of the huge Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base before, only to have talks break down at the last minute over the language or the kind of compensation to be paid. Officials cautioned that the situation could change if Marcos' current enthusiasm for a quick agreement evaporates for some reason.
The Philippine press has noted recently that several outspoken members of the U.S. Congress who have been critical of Marcos' martial law rule will be absent next year, raising hopes that a new bases agreement increasing the compensation to the Philippine government would meet fewer obstacles. Critics of Marcos such as Reps. Donald Fraser (D-Minn.), Yvonne Burke (D-Calif.), Helen Meyner (D-N.J.) and Joshua Eilberg (D-Penn.) all lost elections or sought other offices this fall.
Rep. Leo Ryan (D-Calif.), who had been particularly outspoken about alleged human rights violations in the Philippines, was killed in Guyana last month.
Source close to the negotiations here said Marcos began to push for a rapid conclusion of an agreement after he talked with Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) here in October. Inouye, whose constituency includes many Filipino Americans, has spoken favorably of Marcos' government. He reportedly urged the Philippine president to get an agreement completed quickly so that Congress could work on it at the start of the new session.
There has been no reliable information about how much compensation the two sides have agreed on. Enrile indicated today that a final figure had not yet been set. The two sides were close to agreeing on $1 billion in compensation over five years in the last few weeks of the Ford administration, but Marcos reportedly balked because he wanted the money to paid as straight rent with no annual congressional review.
Officials on both sides said that Marcos has dropped his insistence on rent and will accept a package of military and economic aid. Enrile hinted that this was the case at a luncheon with the foreign correspondents' association here by referring to "compensation" for the bases.
Clark is said to be the largest U.S. military base in the world, encompassing 130,000 acres. The new agreement is expected to cede most of the base to a Philippine commander, who will also have nominal jurisdiction over an American-controlled enclave with 9,500 servicemen.
Subic has about 36,000 acres, most of it unused watershed. It has a Navy staff of about 6,000, with with another 15,000 sailors usually in port while their ships are being repaired or refueled.
Military officers from both nations have been meeting regularly since this summer to lay out the exact map boundaries of the new U.S. enclaves on the bases. Philippine Armed Forces Chief of Staff Romeo Espino is in Hawaii, reportedly conferring with the U.S. Pacific Command on this and other matters.
In answering questions from foreign correspondents today, Enrile indicated that there was still a strong difference of opinion within the Philippine government over whether the bases help maintain Philippine security. Many nationalist supporters of Marcos, including his elder daughter, have suggested closing the bases to remove a last vestige of colonialism. Marcos, however, seemes to want the increased compensation above the $130 million to $140 million in aid he now receives annually from the United States.