MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Thursday clarified a news report that said that the Philippine military was planning to build new air and naval bases in Subic Bay that can be utilized by American forces.
He instead said that the Philippines was looking to give the United States and Japan greater access to its military bases, as it seeks to counter what it perceives as a rising security threat from China.
The government is initially drafting a plan that would allow US forces to spend more time on Filipino bases, something that could also be offered to Japan’s military later, Gazmin said.
“If and when there is agreement on the access, then there will be equipment coming in from the (United) States,” Gazmin told a joint news conference in Manila after meeting with visiting Japan Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera.
“Now as far as Japan is concerned, we do welcome other countries — particularly Japan since Japan is a strategic partner — in accordance with our existing protocols.”
A wire report quoted senior officials from the Philippine Navy as saying that the plans of building air and naval bases at Subic Bay could be used by American forces “to counter China’s creeping presence in the disputed South China Sea.”
The report added that the Navy has yet to formally present its P10 billion-base development plan to President Benigno Aquino III.
Subic Bay was once a United States military base for nearly a century until 1992, when the Philippine Senate voted 12-11 to reject a new bases treaty with the US. A ratification of the Visiting Forces Agreement in 1999 paved the way for large-scale joint military exercises such as “Balikatan” and Carat (Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training), among others, between Philippine and US troops.
This also allowed increased presence of US vessels that visit the country as it rebalances its military presence in the Asia Pacific.
Meanwhile, militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan slammed the report on plans of building new US bases, saying that the US is only using the territorial disputes with China to justify its presence here.
“The dispute with China cannot be used as a basis for having de facto US bases in Subic or any part of the country. The US will not engage China in a head on military conflict right now. The US is only using the territorial dispute to justify its presence here. Make no mistake, the US is not about to choose us over China should the dispute intensify. US military presence here is in service of US imperialist interests and not our national interests. Those two are not identical,” said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of National Defense, and the commander-in-chief Benigno Aquino III should now disclose to the public the truth about the revival of military bases in Subic. There have been persistent reports that plans are underway to once again allow the stationing of US ships and planes in the area, even if this runs counter to national sovereignty and violates the Constitution,” he added. With a report from Agence France-Presse