The Philippines has offered the United States eight bases where it can build facilities to store equipment and supplies under a new security deal, a military spokesman said on Wednesday, amid rising tension with China over the South China Sea.
Last year, the Philippines and the United States signed the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) granting Washington increased military presence in its former colony, rotating ships and planes for humanitarian and maritime security operations.
"The list has been prepared many months ago when we had earlier discussions," Col. Restituto Padilla told reporters, saying five military airfields, two naval bases and a jungle training camp were offered to the United States.
"These are still subject for approval and we're going to hold final discussions about these areas," he added.
Three of these bases are on the main island of Luzon in the northern Philippines, including Clark airfield, a former US air force base, and two are on the western island of Palawan, near the South China Sea.
The Americans are also seeking access to three civilian seaports and airfields on Luzon, including Subic Bay, a former US Navy base, a senior defense official told Reuters.
'Reversal of 1991 Senate vote'
The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, one of the petitioners against the EDCA before the Supreme Court, warned that the locations "would be the site of the new US bases."
"These identified locations will be the site of new US bases. They will operate and function as military bases. That is clear from the text of the EDCA. These facilities are not ordinary civilian structures. Control over these bases will remain with the US," said Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes in a text message.
"In many ways, this is worse than the 1947 Military Bases Agreement because apparently more areas are covered under EDCA. It is effectively a reversal of the Senate's 1991 vote against US bases. Only the truly blind and hopelessly naive will say that these facilities are not bases," he added.
No US bases
In a phone interview on News To Go earlier in the day, Senate President Franklin Drilon said no American military base will be constructed in the country under EDCA.
"Hindi po 'yan mangyayari dito sa EDCA dahil kung magtatayo ng base militar, dapat may bagong treaty na dapat ratipikahin ng Senado," he said.
He mentioned the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which has been in effect since 1999 and is the "controlling treaty" of the EDCA.
"Matagal na ang Visiting Forces Agreement at wala namang naitayo na base militar dito," Drilon stressed.
Last year, more than 100 US Navy ships docked in Subic and two advanced nuclear-powered stealth submarines made visits in the first two weeks of this year.
"Subic is important to the Americans because it is one of the few areas in the country where they can actually dock safely," said a defense official, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the press.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said security cooperation with the US had become more intertwined amid increasing tension over the South China Sea.
The Philippines has filed a protest against China's test flights from an artificial island in the South China Sea, a foreign ministry spokesman said, describing the actions as "provocative" and a violation of an existing informal code.
Every year more than $5 trillion of world trade is shipped through the South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, which China claims almost entirely. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have rival claims.
China's official Xinhua news agency, in an English-language commentary, said the EDCA would only escalate tension and "could push the situation to the brink of war."
"The deal is groundless because China, which sticks to a defensive defence policy, has never coerced any country on the South China Sea issue," it said. —Reuters with Amita Legaspi/KBK, GMA News