US to China: Edca with PH not about any ‘third country’
MANILA, Philippines — The United States on Saturday said its increasing military presence in the Philippines did not concern any “third country” in the region after China issued another stern warning that Manila might be drawn into the conflict over Taiwan by allowing American forces to station troops and supplies in Filipino bases.
The country’s defense and security establishment rejected allegations by Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian that the Philippines was meddling in the internal affairs of China concerning Taiwan.
It also assured the public that its principal concern regarding the China-Taiwan conflict was the protection of the more than 150,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Taiwan.
President Marcos’ chief legal counsel, former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, said that China was a friend and trading partner but it should not interfere in the country’s internal affairs, foreign policy and treaty commitments.
US troops have been given access to nine Philippine military bases where they could store military materiel and aid supplies, and preposition troops to quickly respond to crises and natural disasters under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) between Manila and Washington.
Three of those bases are located in Enrile’s home region of Cagayan Valley, which is close to Taiwan.
On Friday, Huang said in a forum that “obviously, the US intends to take advantage of the new Edca sites to interfere in the situation across the Taiwan Strait.”
Huang also indicated that the safety and well-being of the more than 150,000 OFWs in Taiwan might be jeopardized if the government does not “unequivocally oppose” Taiwan’s independence.
He said the “Taiwan question is entirely China’s internal affair” similar to the “Mindanao issue,” a reference to the former Muslim separatist movement in the southern Philipppines.
“You will never allow any third party to meddle with resolving rebel issues in Mindanao,” Huang said.
Without directly responding to Huang, the US Embassy said that the military bases where it was given access under Edca “will support combined training exercises and interoperability between US and Philippine forces to ensure that we’re even better prepared for future crises.”
“Edca is a key component in the US-Philippine alliance, and is not about any other third country,” it added.
Taiwan formed an independent government after communist forces took control of China in 1949. China said it is part of its territory and has not renounced the use of force to take it back.
The first five military bases for use under Edca, also called “Edca sites,” were disclosed in 2016—Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province; Basa Air Base in Pampanga province; Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan province; Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mactan, Cebu; and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City.
Early this month, the Philippines identified four more—Camilo Osias Naval Base in Sta. Ana town and Lal-lo Airport in Lal-lo town, both in Cagayan province; Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela province; and Balabac Island on the southern tip of Palawan facing the West Philippine Sea where Manila has repeatedly protested against Chinese encroachments.
‘Adhere to rule of law’
In a statement on Saturday, the Department of National Defense (DND) appealed to all concerned parties and states “to adhere to the rule of law and diplomacy in managing differences.”
“The Philippines shall continue to advocate for peace, mutual respect and endeavor to protect and uphold our national and global interests,” DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said.
In a separate statement, the National Security Council (NSC) said the Philippines “has no intention of interfering in the Taiwan issue and will not allow itself to be used by other countries to interfere in the said issue as claimed by the Chinese ambassador.”
“We observe the One China Policy and subscribe to the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) principle of noninterference in approaching regional issues,” said NSC Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya.
“Our primordial concern in Taiwan is the safety and well-being of the more than 150,000 Filipinos living and working on the island and we take grave exception to any effort by guests in our country to use this to fear-monger and intimidate us,” he said.
Malaya said NSC chief Eduardo Año met with Huang early last week and “personally assured” the ambassador that the new Edca sites “were not meant for offensive operations against China or for interference in the Taiwan issue but instead are meant to protect the territorial integrity of the country.”
“These were not US-dictated but identified by our Armed Forces,” Malaya said.
In his weekly television program on Saturday, Enrile, who was the martial law administrator and defense minister of the President’s late father, said Edca was covered by the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and “our historical security relationship with the United States.”
Depend on US power
The 1951 treaty commits both the Philippines and the United States to defend each other in case of an armed attack on a public vessel, troops or an airship.
“We are bound to respect our own treaty like China respects its own treaty with Russia,” said Enrile, who was among the senators who voted against renewing the lease on the US bases in the country in 1991.
He said the Philippines “cannot match the power of China” and would have “to depend on the strength and the military power of America.”
“Geographically, we are here beside them (Chinese), we have to deal with them, we have to maintain a cordial relationship with them but I hope they will not interfere with our internal affairs and our sovereign prerogatives to defend ourselves,” Enrile said.
Threat to OFWs
The Federation of Free Workers (FFW) on Saturday condemned Huang’s statement on OFWs in Taiwan, urging him to “exercise restraint” in making remarks that may affect the safety of Filipinos working abroad.
“After listening to the Chinese ambassador in Manila, we understand that the issue of Taiwan is a flashpoint, but we denounce his threat to our OFWs in Taiwan in order to push the Philippines to join his Chinese foreign policy,” Jun Ramirez, vice president of FFW, said in a statement.
Formed in 1950, FFW is one of the oldest labor federations in the Philippines with about 155,000 members nationwide. It is affiliated with the International Trade Union Confederation, which represents about 200 million workers in 168 countries.