Sen. Neptali Gonzales Monday urged his colleagues to defer action on a bill that would ban nuclear weapons in the Philippines to give President Corazon Aquino a free hand in negotiations on the future of U.S. military bases in the country.
Eight administration senators later met with Aquino at her palace office to give her an "update" on the bill, which they said has a "very good chance" of being approved."I suppose she wanted to anticipate and prepare for whatever might come out in the senate," said Sen. Aquilino Pimentel.
"She did not say anything which would give me the impression that I should stop sponsoring this bill," said Sen. Wigberto Tanada. "The senate is free to do what it wants."
Tanada also told reporters he did not agree with Gonzales' position that approval of the measure could result in the dismantling of the installations.
"These bases can still be used for conventional purposes," said Tanada.
Gonzales, a member of the ruling coalition and Aquino's former justice secretary, was the first member of the Senate to speak against the bill, which administration stalwarts are attempting to pass before the current session ends June 10.
He said Aquino has repeatedly said that she was keeping her options open until the treaty covering the American bases expires in 1991. The 41-year-old pact is currently undergoing a final review.
"We are unnecessarily tying the hands of the president or denying her the requisite flexibility in the choice and exercise of her options come 1991," Gonzales said.
The bill sent out for floor debates in the 23-member Senate late last month bars the "development, manufacture, acquisition, testing, use or storage" of nuclear arms and components as well as the "entry of nuclear armed or powered ship, plane or overland vehicle."
Officials in Washington have reacted sharply to the bill, which they say is incompatible with U.S. policy of not denying or confirming the presence of nuclear arms inside American ships and bases.
The United States maintains Clark Air Base, home of the 13th Air Force, and Subic Bay Naval Base, a repair yard and logistics center for the 7th Fleet, outside Manila.