Philippine president’s sister questions US delivery of millions of gallons of fuel

Jason Gutierrez
Philippine president’s sister questions US delivery of millions of gallons of fuel Philippine Sen. Imee Marcos presides over a Senate foreign relations committee hearing in Manila on the temporary housing of Afghans awaiting resettlement in the United States, June 16, 2023.
Jam Sta Rosa/AFP

Imee Marcos, a powerful Philippine senator and sister of President Ferdinand Marcos, is pressing his administration to answer questions about a large shipment of fuel from a military facility in Hawaii to a former U.S. naval base near Manila.

This week, Sen. Marcos questioned the Department of National Defense about the shipment of 39 million gallons of fuel to the site of the former U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay. She alluded to whether this could be tied to American preparations for a potential war with China.

On Wednesday, Sen. Marcos, who chairs the Philippine Senate’s foreign relations committee, asked for a detailed explanation from the government and the military about the shipment.

The “inexplicable silence” of the Philippine and U.S. governments before a tanker set sail from Hawaii to the Philippines with the cargo of fuel has “raised suspicions about the pre-positioning of military supplies in the country amid predictions of an eventual war between China and the U.S. over Taiwan,” Sen. Marcos said in a statement.

The senator last year clashed with her younger brother’s administration, among other issues, over its controversial decision to expand a bilateral pact to allow U.S. forces greater access to military bases in the Philippines.

The two longtime defense allies struck the deal amid growing tensions between Washington and Beijing over Taiwan, and between Manila and Beijing over their territorial dispute in the South China Sea. 

“The shipment of fuel from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, USA, to a storage facility in the Subic Bay Freeport in the Philippines via the commercial tanker Yosemite Trader is part of regular commercial transactions between the U.S. government and Philippine companies,” defense department spokesman Arsenio Andolong said in a statement Thursday.

He did not give specific details requested by reporters, but the U.S. Embassy in Manila said the shipment was above board. 

An embassy spokesman confirmed that the fuel came from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage facility in Honolulu, according to the state-run Philippine News Agency. The site is an underground facility that has operated for decades by the United States Navy for storing military fuel. 

In October 2023, Stars and Stripes, an independent news organization covering the U.S. military, reported on a plan by the Pentagon to get rid of the fuel. In March 2022, Lloyd Austin, the American defense chief, ordered the facility closed after leaked jet fuel contaminated a nearby well.

Stars and Stripes said the project to empty the defunct storage facility of more than 100 million gallons of fuel would take about three months to complete.

Sailors assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit 1 monitor a camera’s descent into the Red Hill Well as a boom designed to prevent contaminants from potentially entering the pump system at the well is deployed, Jan. 20, 2022. [Stephanie Butler/U.S. Navy photo]

Sen. Marcos’ office said data from several international trackers showed the fuel was loaded at Pearl Harbor by the American tanker Yosemite Trader on Dec. 20 and entered Philippine territory on Tuesday.

Navy chief Vice Adm. Toribio Adaci Jr. declined to comment about the delivery of the fuel, when contacted by BenarNews.

In her statement, the president’s sister accused his administration of again failing to be open with the Philippine people. 

“Not again! This is strike three in attempting to deprive the Filipino people of the right to know,” she said. 

Strike one referred to the 2023 expansion of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) to allow U.S. forces access to four more bases in the Philippines, on top of five others already covered by existing defense pacts.

Strike two refers to the decision to allow the U.S. to house Afghan refugees temporarily. Subic Bay is not listed as one of the nine bases framed by the EDCA.

“The Mutual Defense Treaty is not a license to leave the Filipino people in the dark,” Sen. Marcos said. “Subic is not an EDCA site, so where in Philippine territory will millions of gallons of oil be stored?”

“This is not just an issue of foreign policy but of Philippine sovereignty, even environmental safety,” she said. 

U.S. Embassy spokesman Kanishka Gangopadhyay said the tanker remained in the vicinity of Subic Bay while it was transferring its cargo.

“All arrangements for the transfer and storage of this fuel were made through proper channels, using established logistics contracts with Philippine commercial entities,” he said.

Signed in 2014, the EDCA is a supplement to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) of 1999 that provides legal cover for American troops joining military exercises here. It effectively allows the U.S. to rotate forces here for extended stays and to operate facilities here.

Subic formerly housed an American naval base, while nearby was the Clark Air Base. The two were the largest U.S. overseas military installations before the Philippine legislature voted to permanently shut them down in the early 1990s. 

Since taking office in 2022, President Marcos has repaired U.S. ties damaged by his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who adopted a pro-China policy that analysts said allowed Beijing to expand its territorial claims in the South China Sea. 


Also in 2023, Sen. Marcos exposed what she termed as a “clandestine request” by the U.S. government to temporarily house Afghan refugees in the Philippines. She held a senate inquiry after several U.S. Air Force cargo planes made multiple landings in the country. 

Her brother’s administration said Washington’s request was granted and that it covered the transfer of Afghan nationals formerly employed by the U.S. and their dependents whose special immigrant visas were being processed.


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