Philippine Official Denies Duterte’s Claim about US Turning Subic Bay Into Base

Jojo Rinoza and Jeoffrey Maitem
Subic and Cotabato, Philippines
2021-02-17
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Philippine Official Denies Duterte’s Claim about US Turning Subic Bay Into Base Members of a women’s group hold banners as they stand outside the U.S. Embassy in Manila to demand that the Philippines end its Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, March 6, 2020.
Jojo Rinoza/BenarNews

A Philippine official on Wednesday rejected claims made by President Rodrigo Duterte that the United States was turning one of the Southeast Asian country’s bays into a military facility.

Visits by U.S. military ships to the Subic Bay Freeport Zone under the bilateral Visiting Forces Agreement only last a few days, said Wilma Eisma, the administrator of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA).

“The port visits by these foreign military vessels last for only a few days, enough for disembarkation and re-embarkation of troops and assets in case of military exercises under the VFA, or simply for ship re-supply and an onshore visit by the crew in other cases,” Eisma said in a statement.

“These visits have not in any way converted Subic Bay Freeport into a military base.”

She said that the same privilege is also extended to vessels from other nations who choose to make port calls in Subic, including Japan, India, Australia, South Korea and Indonesia.

Eisma did not directly address allegations by President Duterte that the United States was keeping arms in the Philippines.

Calls to the defense secretary and military chief seeking comments on Duterte’s allegations about “so many” U.S. arms “depots” in the Philippines went unanswered Wednesday.

Duterte had made the allegations about Subic Bay and the arms depots on Monday while defending his demand from last week that Washington needed to “pay” Manila to extend the Visiting Forces Agreement, a 22-year-old bilateral defense pact that he has threatened to scuttle.

Duterte didn’t provide any proof of these alleged U.S. actions and said he got the information from the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Since the United States military vacated Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base, in 1991 and 1992, respectively, both sites have been transformed into freeports and investment zones.

Eisma said the SBMA remained committed to becoming a “self-sustaining industrial, commercial, financial and investment center” by attracting local and foreign investments.

“The SBMA will continue with its economic mandate and defer to competent authorities in the matter of foreign policy and national security,” she said.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department did not comment directly on Duterte’s latest claims by merely stating on Tuesday that America valued its alliance with the Philippines.

“Open dialogue between allies is essential to maintaining the strength of an alliance which is vital to both of our countries’ security,” the department said about the VFA.

Meanwhile, officials at the Pentagon declined on Wednesday to comment on Duterte’s remarks.

Signed in 1999, the VFA allows for large-scale joint military exercises in the Philippines between the two allies. It also governs the U.S. military presence in the Southeast Asian country and places American forces there under United States jurisdiction. However, the text of the agreement makes no mention of payments.

Duterte first threatened to end the pact in February last year. Then, last June, he put that plan on hold for six months.

In November, the Philippines gave itself another six months to decide whether to keep the military pact with the U.S. alive because, officials said, bilateral efforts had brought “the renewal of stability” in the South China Sea.

On Wednesday, Duterte spokesman Harry Roque appeared to deny critics’ claims that extending – or not – the VFA required the approval of the senate.

“There is no doubt that the chief executive or the president is the chief architect of our foreign policy,” Roque said on government television.

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