President Duterte has threatened to tear up the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) after accusing US forces of stockpiling weaponry in his country.
The president claims that the US is stirring up trouble in the region by building arms depots in contravention of the 2014 security treaty.
However, a senior spokesman for the Filipino armed forces contradicted the claim, saying the storage facilities were in fact for disaster relief equipment.
“They’re offloading arms in the Philippines now,” the president said at a press conference. “I’m serving notice to armed forces of the United States: Do not do it. I will not allow it.
“You place us all in danger. You do that and I will be there when you start building, even before you build the first post.”
Just days before, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Duterte administration would honour EDCA to allow upgrades at five bases. “EDCA is still on,” Mr Lorenzana told reporters, adding that the president was aware of the plans and had promised to honour all existing agreements with the USA. (See our report here.)
The president, who has made no secret of his dislike for the American military presence in the Philippines, fears the US could drag his country into a conflict with China over the South China Sea.
However, army spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla said the president’s concerns had been examined and found to be baseless. “There was no confirmed incident of this nature,” he told reporters, referring to the accusations that arms were bring brought in.
“They are not allowed under the military agreement.”
Padilla said only items such as rubber boats, generators and materials for building shelters would be stored in the US Army’s Philippine bases.
Duterte’s accusation came after the Pentagon gave the green light for upgrades and construction of barracks, runways and storage facilities at its five bases. So far, it’s been confirmed that new facilities will be built at the Basa Air Base in Pampanga, the old Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro and the Bautista Air Base in Palawan. Future works are expected at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija and the Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.
Last week, US Senator John McCain, chairman of the senate’s Armed Services Committee, proposed $7.5 billion of new military funding for US forces and their allies in the Asia-Pacific region.
The defence agreement covers the rotational deployment of US ships, aircraft and troops at these bases, and the storage of equipment for humanitarian and maritime security purposes.
Mr Duterte’s suspicions about US activity reflects his long-standing hostility towards his country’s former colonial rulers.
Speaking during a visit to Beijing in October, he said: “America has lost. I’ve realigned myself in your Chinese ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to President Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”