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US entry feared when Subic is military base

The Department of National Defense (DND) stood by its decision to use Subic Bay as a military base, citing its strategic location in the disputed West Philippine Sea as well as its ideal airport.

While Subic was once one of the biggest US naval facilities in the world, it was never home to the Philippine military. The US naval base was shut after the Philippine Senate terminated the US bases agreement.

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Objections have been raised that once Subic Bay becomes a military base, the US Navy will have unimpeded access under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

But DND spokesperson Peter Paul Galvez said the plan to reuse the port as a military base was mentioned in 2013 as part of the military’s modernization capability upgrade.

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“Subic is really one of the most suited for the increased capability of our Philippine Air Force. There is no question about it,” Galvez said, referring to Subic Bay’s former airstrip, which is now an airport.

Officials have said the Philippines plans to station new fighter jets and two frigates at Subic Bay by next year. It will be the first time the former military installation will be used as a military base in 23 years.

The DND said it was surprised the issue was being rehashed, saying there was nothing new about it. It added that it would be more expensive to construct a new military base.

“It’s really an ideal airport. It’s one of those airports where jets can really land,” Galvez said.

He added that Subic’s location was very strategic to the West Philippine Sea, where the Philippines has a territorial dispute with China and several other countries.

“Its location is very strategic,’’ Galvez said. ‘’If we need to be in the West Philippine Sea, Subic Bay’s already there. The port is also a deep water port which can accommodate our new ships.”

Specific areas

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Galvez said the West Philippine Sea factor was considered in the decision to reuse the old base.

“Those are obvious factors. These were discussed before but I was surprised because it seems the issue is being rehashed or sensationalized. But this has been discussed since 2013,” Galvez said.

He added that the military was identifying limited and specific areas in Subic Bay to be used as military facilities.

He said a memorandum of agreement was in the works to identify these areas.

Galvez also said it was possible that the assets to be procured under the military’s modernization program might be rotated at the Subic Bay facility and other military installations.

Expanded exercises

Also Friday, the new US commander of the Pacific Fleet assured allies that American forces were well-equipped and ready to respond to any contingency in the South China Sea, where long-seething territorial disputes have set off widespread uncertainties.

Adm. Scott Swift, who assumed command of the Pacific Fleet in May, said the US Navy might deploy more than the four littoral combat ships it had committed to the region.

Swift also disclosed that he was “very interested” in expanding annual combat exercises the US Navy holds with each of several allies into a multinational drill, possibly including Japan.

Next conflict

Asked how many resources the US military was ready to devote to the South China Sea, Swift told journalists in Manila that he understood the concerns of America’s allies.

“The reason that people continue to ask about the long-term commitment and intentions of the Pacific Fleet is reflective really of all the uncertainty that has generated in the theater now,” Swift said. “If we had the entire United States Navy here in the region, I think people would still be asking, ‘Can you bring more?”’

Territorial disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have flared on and off for years, sparking fears that the South China Sea could spark Asia’s next major armed conflict.

Tensions flared again last year when China launched massive island-building in at least seven reefs it controls in the Spratlys.

US ready to move

Addressing those concerns, Swift said he was “very satisfied with the resources that I have available to me as the Pacific Fleet commander,” adding “we are ready and prepared to respond to any contingency that the president may suggest would be necessary.”

The United States, Swift stressed, doesn’t take sides but would press ahead with operations to ensure freedom of navigation in disputed waters and elsewhere.

Swift cited the US military’s massive response to help the Philippines following Supertyphoon “Yolanda’s” (international name: Haiyan) devastation in 2013 as a demonstration of America’s commitment to help a troubled ally.

It remains unclear what China intends to do with the artificial islands but Swift said it was clear those areas remained disputed and added they would not hinder US military operations in the disputed region.

“I don’t feel any change from a military perspective about impacting any operations that the Pacific Fleet engages in,” he said. With a report from AP

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TAGS: Department of National Defense, DND, military base, Subic Bay, West Philippine Sea
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