MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang said on Sunday the possible return of United States military bases to the country as stated by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin was a “mere scenario in case of an extreme emergency” arising from the Korean crisis.
“The secretary was talking about a scenario and that is part of his job as secretary of national defense to look at all possible outcomes, especially in matters related to national defense,” said deputy press spokesperson Abigail Valte in an interview over dzRB radio.
Last Friday, when asked about the imminent threat of a nuclear strike by North Korea on South Korea, Gazmin said: “In case of extreme emergency, then there are extreme measures to be undertaken. Maybe this (return of US bases) is one of them.”
“This is not about the present situation. This is only in case of extreme emergency like… a possible war. That was the context of Secretary Gazmin’s reply,” said Valte.
In the same interview, Gazmin said he was fully aware of the Constitution’s ban on nuclear weapons. The Americans abandoned Clark Air Force Base and Subic Naval Base 21 years ago, ending nearly a century of US military presence in the country, when Mt. Pinatubo exploded. The American bases were shut down for good when the Philippine Senate voted to strike down a new basing agreement forged by the Philippine and US governments at the time.
But even with the abrogation of the Philippine-US military bases agreement, American soldiers continue to be perennial visitors to the country with a 62-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) still in place. Under the MDT, the Philippines and the US forged a Visiting Forces Agreement, that provides the protocol for the annual war games and other training programs, now known as the “Balikatan” exercises, involving US and Philippine military forces.
This weekend, the Armed Forces of the Philippines invited students and relatives of its soldiers to observe aspects of the Balikatan exercises, which are ongoing.
“The gesture is one of the innovations of this year’s Balikatan and forms part of an effort to immerse the youth and give them the opportunity to interact with Balikatan participants,” the AFP said in a statement.
The AFP said 25 Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) cadets from the University of the Philippines observed the “static display” of American and Filipino soldiers, and a flight demonstration of F/A-18 Hornets jet fighters at Clark on Saturday. They also checked out the V-22 Osprey, a transport plane known for its vertical takeoff and landing capability.
Over 200 relatives of Filipino soldiers and students from Bulacan State University and College of St. Benilde also watched a demonstration of an “explosion scenario and casualty evacuation” at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.
Despite the tensions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and the Korean Peninsula, the AFP maintained that the two-week military exercise was focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster response programs. With a report from Marlon Ramos