The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) may be amenable to hosting Philippines military bases inside this special economic and free port zone, but its top official said he hoped the dual role to be played by Subic would not jeopardize business operations here.
“Our primary concern in Subic is business, but this does not preclude that we host [military] bases here,” SBMA Chairman Roberto Garcia said in a media briefing here on Monday. “But my only request is that this hosting should not hamper the operations of locator-companies here.”
Garcia said the SBMA board of directors had approved through a board resolution last month the setting up of “partial Philippines military bases” within the Subic Bay Freeport Zone. These would consist of a base for the Philippine Air Force (PAF) and a homeport for the Philippine Navy (PN).
The PAF is reportedly eyeing the former Federal Express terminal in the Subic Bay International Airport to house a squadron of 24 fighter jets to be acquired from South Korea.
The PN is proposing to use the Alava, Riviera and Juliet wharves as homeport of its naval assets, including two of its newly acquired frigates, the BRP Alcaraz (PF-16) and BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15). The three wharves are among the 14 existing docks in Subic.
Garcia said the SBMA would have to yield if national interest would warrant a return of the military to the former American naval base.
“The primary consideration here is national security, especially since Subic is just about 120 miles from a potential flashpoint, the Scarborough Shoal,” Garcia said.
“It is important that Subic [through the Philippines military units there] would be able to respond [in case of conflict],” he said.
Garcia said the bases to be put up in Subic would be owned by the Philippines, adding the SBMA had yet to be informed of its specific role under the Expanded Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) signed by the Philippines and the United States on April 28.
The new agreement allows the increased presence of American troops in the country on a “rotational basis,” but critics have pointed out that allowing the joint use of Philippine bases would mean bringing the Americans back to their former military haunts in Subic and Clark and would violate the Constitution.
Garcia said that while Subic has been mentioned among the key areas for Edca, the free port would not serve a major role like Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, the largest military reservation in the country, or Oyster Bay, a naval base in Palawan which is just 160 kilometers away from the contested Spratly Islands chain.
Garcia had earlier welcomed the signing of Edca, saying it would strengthen national security, but added the hope that the new defense agreement would just be “a temporary arrangement that will serve the purpose of benefiting most Filipinos.”