MANILA, JAN. 12 -- In intense negotiations on the future of U.S. military bases here, the Philippines has backed off a demand for a five-year phase-out period, but tough bargaining still lies ahead on compensation and other issues, participants in the talks said today.
"Satisfactory progress has been made across a wide range of issues," said a joint statement issued at the end of the latest round of negotiations.
A current agreement on American use of the bases, which have played a key role in recent weeks in the U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf, expires Sept. 16.
After insisting on a five-year "terminal phase-out" of Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Base earlier in the week, the Philippine side indicated willingness to accept a reduction of the U.S. military presence beyond that time frame, a U.S. negotiator said.
"They're clearly moving in a direction that would make continued use of the facilities more attractive to us," he said. U.S. negotiators have argued for a 10- to 12-year "phase-down," followed by some kind of continued access to the bases.
The two sides announced Friday that, in the latest of a series of agreements on four smaller U.S. facilities, the Philippine military would take over Wallace Air Station and San Miguel Naval Communications Station in September, assuming responsibility for the country's air defense.
However, according to Philippine and U.S. officials, the government of President Corazon Aquino still has not come to grips with the key issue of whether it wants to remain a U.S. military ally, an ambivalence that has frustrated U.S. negotiators. Difficult talks also lie ahead on the level and formula of U.S. aid to the Philippines in return for use of the bases.
In a meeting of the Philippine National Security Council on Friday, Aquino's politically estranged vice president, Salvador Laurel, urged the government to make up its mind about the alliance and take a more pragmatic approach to the base negotiations and international opposition to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.