US converting Subic into military base? DND, AFP mum on Duterte remark

Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 16 2021 07:26 PM

US converting Subic into military base? DND, AFP mum on Duterte remark 1
Residents take a stroll along the banks of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone with a view of container ships docked on the horizon, May 30, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana on Tuesday declined to answer questions from the media about President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest statement against the United States, where he said the superpower was “slowly converting Subic into an American base” once again.

Duterte in a late-night pronouncement on Monday said that the US has “so many depots” and was stockpiling firearms in the Philippines, adding that he learned this from reports and assessment given to him by the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines). 

He also castigated Vice President Leni Robredo and Sen. Panfilo Lacson for not knowing this, and speaking of matters they're not privy to.

An agreement that allows the non-permanent presence of US troops and the storage of US defense materiel in the Philippines has existed since 2014. 

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) is an accord “authorizing access to Agreed Locations in the territory of the Philippines by United States forces on a rotational basis” in the spirit of interoperability and interest of capacity building between the two long-time allies.

Article IV of the EDCA states, “the Philippines hereby authorizes United States forces, through bilateral security mechanisms… to preposition and store defense equipment, supplies, and material in certain agreed locations identified by both countries.” 

Under the pact, the US is to have operational control of these determined locations, with Philippine authorities given access to these facilities at all times. The United States is not allowed to bring in nuclear weapons, and is required to notify Philippine authorities of every equipment delivery and storage.

The preamble of the EDCA also affirms the “understanding for the United States not to establish a permanent military presence or base in the territory of the Philippines” and that “United States access to and use of facilities and areas will be at the invitation of the Philippines and with full respect for the Philippine Constitution and Philippine laws.”

Subic Bay, a former US naval base, is not on the list of agreed locations where EDCA operations may occur. The five places approved for EDCA projects are:

  • Antonio Bautista Air Base, Palawan
  • Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija
  • Cesar Basa Air Base, Pampanga
  • Lumbia Air Base, Cagayan de Oro
  • Benito Air Base, Cebu

Subic Bay was a US military base until the Philippine Senate voted for its removal and the pullout of US troops on September 16, 1991. This was said to be a significant move on the part of the Philippines towards greater independence from the US, which held the Philippines as a colony for half a century. 

Despite the controversial and historic pullout, the two countries remained allies under the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951, the agreement that allows for the EDCA. 

In 1998, both governments signed the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) - an accord that allowed US forces to return to the Philippines on a non-permanent basis. 

The VFA lays out regulations on the entry and exit of visiting US military and civilian personnel, aircraft, and vessels, the conduct of both nations in the event of US personnel committing crimes within the Philippines, and the assessment of damages.

The VFA has been criticized for supposedly benefiting the US more than the Philippines. Whenever crimes are committed by US servicemen against Filipinos citizens, the treaty is vilified for giving primacy to protecting the Americans rather than serving justice to the victims.

The future of the VFA is now in limbo as Duterte, who ordered it abrogated in 2020 over the cancellation of his ally Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa's US visa, has expressed resistance to reinstating it unless the US pays the Philippines.

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