WASHINGTON: The Philippines agreed Friday (Saturday in Manila) to allow the United States to use five of its military bases, including an air base on an island facing the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) where Manila is involved in territorial disputes with China.
The facilities were the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Lumbia Air Base in Mindanao, and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu. The agreement was made during the 6th Bilateral Strategic Dialogue (BSD) held from March 17 to 18 in Washington D.C.
“Both sides expressed their firm opposition to the ongoing militarization of outposts in the South China Sea,” the two countries said in a joint statement released after talks between senior government officials.
The dialogue was co-chaired by Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel and Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear for the US and Foreign Undersecretary Evan Garcia and Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino for the Philippines.
The statement did not name a specific country in the context of militarization but the meeting took place as the United States steps up its criticism of China for its buildup of military equipment such as missile launchers and radars in disputed areas in the sea.
Washington and Manila “discussed their common view that the installation of new military assets on the outposts escalates tensions,” the statement added.
The US and Philippine governments will hold detailed discussions on the US military’s use of the five bases in upcoming occasions such as a planned visit by US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to the Philippines next month.
Washington and Manila also agreed to urge Beijing to follow the ruling of a UN arbitral tribunal in The Hague when it hands down a decision over the legality of China’s territorial claims in the sea, according to the statement.
The Philippines filed a memorial against China in 2014, questioning Beijing’s claim on almost the entire disputed sea based on its 9-dash line policy.
The joint statement also said that the Philippines and US affirmed their commitment to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) that was articulated by the Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
The officials added that the discussions reaffirmed both countries’ commitment to strengthen the alliance in terms of mutual defense and security, and to jointly contribute to regional peace, stability, and economic prosperity.
The two sides discussed proposals to enhance US efforts to help modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), develop capacity and capability for maritime security and domain awareness, and provide rapid humanitarian assistance.
The Philippines also welcomed the intent of the US Department of Defense to propose to the US Congress that a significant amount under the Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative be allocated to the Philippines for mutually agreed projects that directly support the country’s maritime security priorities.
The two countries committed to continue developing, planning, and executing defense cooperation activities to reinforce their respective national defense capabilities and interoperability in the areas of maritime security and domain awareness, enhanced joint activities, humanitarian and disaster response, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and information sharing.
The two countries reiterated their commitment to peace, security, and stability in the region, as well as to unimpeded lawful commerce and freedoms of navigation and overflight. They reinforced the importance of close cooperation and consultation among international organizations and bodies that support a rules-based international order providing a framework for peaceful resolution of disputes.