President Rodrigo Duterte has warned the United States to stop building “permanent” arms depots in the Philippines because it will disrupt regional security.
Duterte claimed that the US military is unloading arms in some parts of the country.
“Now, here is my worry: The United States is building depots. They are unloading arms in Palawan, in Cagayan de Oro, and in Pampanga,” the President said in a news conference.
“I am serving notice to the Armed Forces of the United States: Do not do it. I will not allow it,” he added.
Duterte said that building permanent military facilities in the country violates the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement signed between the Philippines and the US.
“There’s a provision in the Visiting Forces Agreement that there shall no be permanent facilities. A depot by any other name is a depot. It’s a permanent structure to house arms. And I do not even know if there is a nuclear tip now that they are unloading because that’s prohibited,” Duterte said.
“You do that and I will consider a review and maybe ultimately abrogate (VFA), since it is an Executive Order, abrogate the treaty altogether,” he added.
Earlier, the Pentagon said it has given the greenlight to upgrade and build facilities on Philippine military bases this year.
Duterte said the US action endangers the Philippines because country will be caught in the battle between the US and China.
“The missiles of China are pointed at the American expeditions here. Those depots will serve as their supply line. Those missiles are very near the Philippines. They will hit Cagayan, Palawan and Basa. So? I am not stupid to allow that to happen. You may be our friend but don’t include us in your fight. You place us all in danger,” he said.
The President also slammed the US for pressuring him to enforce the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration that invalidated most of China’s claims on the disputed islands.
“You are egging us to force the issue of arbitral judgment. When I received, I read the copy altogether, I had two choices: Go there and destroy the structures because that is ours and go to war or talk. So I was looking at our resources, can we do it? Because if we can do it we’d already be there. But can we fight China?” he asked.
“China is not picking a fight. And I made a commitment to President Xi Jinping, I made a solemn commitment that we will talk about this arbitral award during my term. When? I really do not know, but during my term and we will talk hard,” he added.
No unloading of equipment
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) however said it has not monitored any unloading of war materiel by the US.
“The President’s announcement last night was checked by the Armed Forces and it was found out that there was no confirmed incident of this nature,” said Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., AFP spokesman.
He said it is possible that the President may be referring to past joint military exercises with the US.
“They are authorized to unload their tanks in Subic Bay to be used during exercises so it might have been borne out of those reports and we’re still checking how it came to be,” Padilla said.
He admitted though that the two countries are preparing for a joint military drill scheduled early this year.
The official said a “scaled down” Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises will be held in April.
As to the construction of US facilities in various military camps, Padilla said these are in consonance with the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) whose constitutionality was upheld by the Supreme Court last year.
WITH FERNAN MARASIGAN