Manila: US plans to spend $100M on Philippine military bases’ upgrades

BenarNews staff
Manila: US plans to spend $100M on Philippine military bases’ upgrades U.S. soldiers participate in joint exercises with the Philippine military at Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija province, north of Manila, April 13, 2023.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

The United States plans to spend more than U.S. $100 million (5.6 billion pesos) for upgrades at nine military bases it has been granted access to in the Philippines, Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo told a Senate inquiry Wednesday.

There are 16 projects in five bases originally covered under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the allies – a supplemental agreement to the Visiting Forces Agreement – that grants legal cover to large-scale joint maneuvers, Manalo said. 

These projects include a runway and a warehouse at the Cesar Basa Air Base in the northern province of Nueva Ecija, along with a storage facility in Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in the central Visayas region. 

“To date, the U.S. has allocated a total of over U.S. $100 million to EDCA projects, including an additional U.S. $18 million announced during the Third 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue last week in  Washington,” Manalo told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

 “This will cover projects in both existing and new agreed locations. … Six of those projects are estimated to be completed within 2023.” 

Manalo was referring to the recent meeting  of U.S. and Philippine foreign and defense ministers.

The Philippines agreed to give the U.S. access to four new bases, which Manalo referred to, in an agreement in February

Manila revealed the new locations early this month, with two of them – the Naval Base Camilo Osias as well as the Lal-lo Airport – within the province of Cagayan, in the country’s north that faces Taiwan.

The two others are on the island of Balabac in Palawan province facing the South China Sea, and in Isabela province north of Manila. 

Manalo said those sites “have been determined and evaluated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines as significantly relevant for Philippine defense modernization goals.” 

Additional U.S. access to Philippine bases comes at a time of increased tensions between China and Taiwan, which it considers a renegade province.

Philippine nationalists have expressed fear that the Philippines, by increasing U.S. military presence, could be drawn into war unnecessarily should China invade Taiwan.

Hearing comes amid Balikatan

Manalo’s comments come as Philippine and U.S. troops, bound by a decades-old Mutual Defense Treaty, are conducting their largest-ever annual joint war games, Balikatan. The troops have trained using modern weapons including Javelin missiles similar to those used by Ukraine against invading Russian forces.

Next week, both sides are scheduled to conduct live fire exercises that involve sinking a purported enemy ship. 

Leaders of both countries have denied that the drills are aimed at China or any other country, and said the exercises are meant to develop joint capabilities in case of an attack by an outside force. 

Last week, Huang Xilian, China’s envoy to Manila, advised the Philippines to “unequivocally oppose” Taiwan’s independence rather than grant U.S. expanded access, noting it could stoke tensions.

“[W]e will not renounce the use of force and we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures,” Huang had said. 

The Chinese Embassy in Manila said Huang’s remarks were reported incorrectly despite the media citing quotes from a copy of the speech provided by the embassy.

Addressing growing calls to have Huang expelled from the country, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he expected to speak with Huang to allow him to clarify his remarks. Marcos gave Huang the benefit of the doubt, noting the speech released in English may have been “lost in translation.” 

“I’ll be talking to the ambassador soon. And I’m sure he will be ... I’m sure he’ll be very anxious to give his own interpretation of what he was trying to say,” Marcos told reporters during a visit to the northern province of Bulacan on Wednesday.

“We were all a little surprised, but I just put it down to the difference in language,” Marcos said.

Marcos’ government was expected to host Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang in Manila this weekend.

The Philippine foreign ministry said it expects Manalo and Qin to discuss the South China Sea issue as well as other regional security issues, possibly including Taiwan.

Jeoffrey Maitem and Jojo Riñoza in Manila contributed to this report.


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