MANILA — The Philippines said Thursday it was looking to give the United States and Japan greater access to its military bases as it seeks to counter what it perceives as a rising security threat from China.
The government is initially drafting a plan that would allow US forces to spend more time on Filipino bases, something that could be offered to Japan’s military later, Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.
“If and when there is agreement on the access, then there will be equipment coming in from the (United) States,” Gazmin told a joint news conference in Manila after meeting with visiting Japan Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera.
“Now as far as Japan is concerned, we do welcome other countries — particularly Japan since Japan is a strategic partner — in accordance with our existing protocols.”
President Benigno Aquino had already stated that the Philippines would welcome an increased US military presence, amid tense disputes with China over competing claims to parts of the South China Sea.
However, Gazmin’s comments indicated the Philippines was hoping to expand on the standard military exercises that the two nations’ armed forces regularly engage in.
“Modalities for the increased rotational presence are right now being examined. One modality is the conduct of high-value, high-impact exercise,” Gazmin said, without elaborating.
However, Gazmin emphasised the plan would not see any new bases or a permanent US presence in the Philippines.
The United States had tens of thousands of troops stationed in the Philippines, at the Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base north of Manila, until the early 1990s.
The United States, a former colonial ruler of the Philippines, was forced to abandon the bases amid anti-US sentiment and a row over rent. The constitution now bans any permanent foreign bases in the Philippines.
However, the Clark and Subic facilities, now partly converted to business use, still host and service US military aircraft and warships on short-term exercises.
One of those began Thursday in waters between the Philippines’ main island of Luzon and a disputed shoal now occupied by China.
Several hundred US special operations troops have been rotating through the southern Philippines since early 2002 to train Filipino soldiers who are fighting Islamic militants.