The US and the Philippines have agreed to forge a new security arrangement to bolster their battle against terrorists and other threats like piracy, Philippine and US officials said yesterday.
The accord involves the setting up of a new joint panel called the Security Engagement Board, details of which would be announced soon by Philippine defense officials and the US embassy, a Philippine defense official said.
The security board would allow the longtime military allies to cooperate better and deal with nontraditional security threats like terrorism, piracy and bird flu, the official said.
"This is a government-to-government agreement. It's a Philippine initiative for both governments to establish this Security Engagement Board," US embassy spokesman Matthew Lussenhop said.
"It will provide a clearer framework for consultations and planning to address nontraditional security concerns," he said.
The two nations signed a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty that calls for cooperation in battling external security threats in either country.
They also have also signed a Visiting Forces Agreement that allows US forces to join large-scale exercises in the Philippines.
The official said the security board would allow both nations to jointly deal with terrorism and other threats not falling under the Mutual Defense Treaty.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is one of Asia's most vocal backers of Washington's global war on terror and has allowed US forces to train and arm Filipino soldiers battling al-Qaeda-linked militants in the southern region of Mindanao, the scene of decades-old separatist uprisings.
Although both governments have justified the US military presence in the south as part of authorized joint military exercises, left-wing groups have questioned the legality of US troops' presence near southern battle zones and have demanded their withdrawal.
Meanwhile, five supporters of ousted president Joseph Estrada have been arrested for allegedly plotting to assassinate some of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's Cabinet members, the Philippine military and police said.
Military spokesman Colonel Tristan Kison said military and police intelligence agents had initially been seeking one man, Ruben Dionisio -- allegedly an officer of the special operations group of the communist New People's Army -- but seized four others who were with him, including a police officer.
Relatives of those arrested, all members of the pro-Estrada Union of the Masses for Democracy and Justice, said the five were abducted on Monday by security forces, but the police and the military had earlier denied they were in custody.