April 11, 2023
MANILA – The four additional Philippine military bases that the United States now has access to under a 2014 defence and security deal will not be used for offensive actions, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said on Monday.
“China’s reaction is not surprising, since it has its own concerns. But the Philippines will not allow our bases to be used for any offensive actions. This is only meant to help the Philippines should the need arise,” he said.
Mr Marcos was speaking to reporters at an event commemorating the surrender of Philippine and American forces to Japanese invaders during World War II in 1942.
His statement comes after Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning warned last Tuesday that Manila’s decision to expand the number of military bases under the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with Washington may draw the Philippines “into a whirlpool of a potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait”.
Manila and Washington in February agreed to expand the EDCA by naming four more military bases where American forces can construct facilities, bring in equipment and hold joint training exercises with their Philippine counterparts.
The additional sites include a naval base and an airport in Cagayan province, about 627km north of the capital Manila, and an army camp in Isabela, a province beside Cagayan in the northern Philippines. All three sites are already being used by the Philippine military.
These are parts of the country that are close to Taiwan, with the tip of Cagayan province located about 580km from the island.
Tensions in the region are simmering after China conducted three days of military drills in the area following Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s return to Taipei from California last Friday. She had met US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy during a transit in the US state after visiting Latin American countries.
Beijing sees self-ruled Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunified, by force if necessary.
The fourth additional EDCA site will be on Balabac Island in the southern tip of Palawan province, located near the South China Sea, where Manila and Beijing have competing claims.
Five other military bases were previously identified under EDCA in 2016, which means the US now has access to a total of nine military locations in the Philippines.
The five other sites are the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Lumbia Airfield in Cagayan de Oro, and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.
Mr Marcos made assurances that while the Philippines will primarily protect its territory, it will not take action unless provoked.
“If there is no one attacking us, then there is no need to worry because we are not going to fight. We are only doing what we have always done, which is to strengthen our efforts to defend our territory, to defend the Republic,” he said.
The President also echoed previous statements by the Philippine and US defence ministries, saying the expansion of EDCA is also meant for humanitarian and relief operations during disasters.
He pointed out that Isabela and Cagayan provinces are often lashed by typhoons, triggering landslides and flash floods.
The Philippines’ geographical location makes it a strategic ally for both the US and China, two superpowers that are now competing for influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
As China continues to increase its military aggression in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, Mr Marcos has been exploring a deeper security cooperation with military allies such as the US, Japan and Australia.
On Tuesday, the Philippines and the US are set to start their biggest war games in years, with more than 17,000 soldiers expected to show off their maritime defence capabilities.
During the three-week military exercise, Australia will be deploying more than 100 soldiers, while Japan will be sending military observers.
Exercise Balikatan 2023 will be held in key areas around the Philippines, including Zambales, a coastal province near the South China Sea.