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Subic Bay and Clark bases open to Philippines allies

2013-07-12
By Jean Magdaraog Cordero
Subic Bay: The USS Fitzgerald arrives June 27 to join the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training Exercise Philippines. [AFP]

Subic Bay: The USS Fitzgerald arrives June 27 to join the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training Exercise Philippines. [AFP]

The Philippines will allow its strategic partners Japan and the United States access to the former American military facilities, Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base, both in Luzon.

President Benigno Aquino III explained to reporters that access to the installations, while not permanent, is logical to prepare allied forces for any conflict.

Aquino stressed that failure to coordinate military deployment systems between or among allied forces in case of a conflict “in my view is a wrong way to prepare or [meaning] no preparation at all.

“So, it is but the natural circumstance of if you want a credible alliance, then you will have to have mutual training and that will normally occur within our territory or the allies’ territory,” he said.

Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the access arrangement does not violate Philippine laws.

“Setting up new military bases is not in accordance with our constitution. But if we’re only talking about access, then it is allowed.”

Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin earlier revealed plans to grant allies access to the country’s military installations, saying the military needs to strengthen its alliances in the face of pressure China.

Gazmin said the Philippines, at this point, must work together with friendly and sympathetic allies because, “if we don’t, bigger forces will bully us, and that is happening now.”

Gazmin lamented that Chinese vessels have remained in Philippine territorial waters despite an arbitration case filed by the government before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea [ITLOS].

Proposal made at 2012 Two Plus Two meeting

At one time, both Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base served as the forward facilities for repair and replenishment of the U.S. Seventh Fleet during the Vietnam War.

Gazmin said the proposal to have an access arrangement was raised during the Two Plus Two Ministerial Consultations in Washington, D.C., in April 2012.

The United States conducts Two Plus Two meetings only with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. Last year’s meeting, the first between the Philippines and the United States, was intended to be a consultation on defense, security and political-economic policies between the two countries.

Two Plus Two refers to the ministerial officials Gazmin, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and their U.S. counterparts, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

The two sides vowed during the meeting to strengthen their alliance, pledging to jointly explore opportunities for strengthening the defense capabilities of the Philippines “through robust cooperative security assistance programs,” according to a statement released afterward.

During the same meeting, the two sides affirmed that their respective military forces should be prepared to respond in a timely and effective way to the range of contingencies that may arise in the region.

Clark Air Base: Philippines Air Force personnel participate in its 66th anniversary celebration at the base in Pampanga province on July 1. [AFP/Ryan Lim/MPB]

Clark Air Base: Philippines Air Force personnel participate in its 66th anniversary celebration at the base in Pampanga province on July 1. [AFP/Ryan Lim/MPB]

Strategic alliance with US emphasized U.S. Secretary of State

John Kerry, whom Del Rosario met April 2 in Washington, D.C., has noted that the Philippines is one of five Asia Pacific allies of the U.S. and that the two countries share a very important relationship “at this point in time when there are tensions over the South China Sea.

“We are deeply concerned about some of these tensions and would like to see it worked out through a process of arbitration,” Kerry said at a news conference shortly before meeting with Del Rosario.

Del Rosario also met with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel earlier that day, emphasizing his country’s commitment to the alliance with the Philippines.

“We also both agreed that our strategic alliance is crucial and relevant amidst the uncertainty and the security challenges in the region,” Del Rosario said.

He added that Hagel said he was pleased with the progress being made toward an increased U.S. presence in the Philippines.

The talks included a discussion of U.S. capacity-building to support the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ modernization plans, according to U.S. Defense Department statement.

Mutual Defense Treaty signed in 1951

The Philippines and the U.S. have an enduring alliance based on historical and cultural ties. The Philippines was a U.S. territory from 1898 to 1946.

In 1951, the two countries signed a Mutual Defense Treaty, vowing to support each other if either country were to be attacked by an external party. In 1991, the Philippine Senate failed to ratify a new military bases agreement, leading to the withdrawal of American troops from the two bases.

The two countries, however, continued to conduct the annual Exercise Balikatan, a bilateral military exercise to enhance the combined planning, combat readiness, and inter-operability of both militaries.

Defense and security relations also were revitalized following the signing of the Visiting Forces Agreement in 1998, paving the way for increased ship visits to Philippine ports and large combined U.S. military exercises with Philippine forces.

In 2002, the two countries signed a Mutual Logistic Support Agreement, which calls for increased logistics cooperation between the military forces. The agreement was extended in 2007 and 2012.

‘No greater friends than the US and Japan’

Aquino said in a 2011 speech marking the anniversary of the Fall of Bataan in 1942 that the U.S. and Japan have turned out to be the nation’s greatest allies after World War II.

“I know three generations ago, the three of us were in conflict but since then our country has had no greater friends than the U.S. and Japan. Japan has been our partner toward economic progress, providing us the needed technology to cope with calamity. And the U.S. has shared with us a long history of cooperation and mutual defense,” he said.

Del Rosario has said the Philippines is supporting Japan’s military enhancement to balance factors in the region.

Tokyo also is embroiled in a territorial dispute with Beijing over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyutai Islands in China.

Following World War II, Japan was barred from maintaining an army, navy or air force. The Japanese Constitution, instead, provides for Self Defense Forces, which are basically extensions of the national police force.

Aquino stressed to reporters on July 2 that the Philippines sought a peaceful solution to the disputes with China and said that his decision to seek mediation from ITLOS was the proper avenue so that “any state can pursue its own rights.”

Do you think giving the United States and Japan access to naval and air bases in the Philippines will strengthen alliances among the countries? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

 

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