The Philippine President Says He Won't Give US Access to More Local Military Bases

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. answers questions
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. answers questions during a forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines on Monday, April 15, 2024, in Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine president said Monday his administration has no plan to give the United States access to more Philippine military bases and stressed that the American military's presence in several camps and sites so far was sparked by China’s aggressive actions in the disputed South China Sea.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in 2022, allowed American forces and weapons access to four additional Philippine military bases, bringing to nine the number of sites where U.S. troops can rotate indefinitely under a 2014 agreement.

The Biden administration has been strengthening an arc of security alliances in the region to better counter China, a move that dovetails with Philippine efforts to shore up its external defense, especially in the South China Sea.

Marcos' decision last year alarmed China because two of the new sites were located just across from Taiwan and southern China. Beijing accused the Philippines of providing American forces with staging grounds, which could be used to undermine its security.

"The Philippines has no plans to create any more bases or give access to any more bases,” Marcos said, without elaborating in response to a question during a forum with Manila-based foreign correspondents.

Asked if he was concerned that allowing the U.S. military access to Philippine bases had provoked Chinese actions in the South China Sea, Marcos said the presence of U.S. troops was in response to China’s moves.

“These are reactions to what has happened in the South China Sea, to the aggressive actions that we have had to deal with,” he said, mentioning Chinese coast guard vessels using water cannons and lasers to deter Philippine ships from the area Beijing claims as its own.

He also mentioned collisions, blocking of Filipino fishermen and sea barriers to block ships from Scarborough Shoal, which lies in the Philippine economic zone.

Under Marcos, the Philippines has adopted a strategy of publicizing the incidents by allowing journalists to board its patrol ships to witness China’s assertive actions.

"It is crucial that the media … continue to expose these actions that not only threaten the peace and stability of the region but also undermine the rules-based order that has underpinned global development and prosperity over the previous century,” Marcos said.

China has blamed the Philippines for sparking the confrontations by intruding into what it says were Chinese territorial waters and reneging on an alleged agreement to pull away an old Philippine navy ship, which now serves as Manila’s territorial outpost in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal.

Marcos said he was not aware of any such deal, and added that he considers the deal rescinded — if it ever existed.

Last week, President Joe Biden renewed Washington’s “ironclad” commitment to defend Pacific allies in a summit with Marcos and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House. He reiterated that the U.S. is obligated to defend the Philippines if its forces, aircraft or ships come under an armed attack.

Asked when the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the U.S. and the Philippines could be invoked amid territorial hostilities between China and the Philippines, Marcos cited Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as saying that could happen “if any Filipino serviceman is killed on an attack from any foreign power.”

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