Marcos says new military bases with US to be 'scattered' around the Philippines
By Neil Jerome Morales
MANILA (Reuters) - President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said on Wednesday that four new military bases under a defense agreement with the U.S. would be located in various parts of the Philippines, including in a province facing the South China Sea.
Last month, Marcos granted the U.S. access to four sites, on top of five existing locations under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which comes amid China's growing assertiveness in the South China Sea and towards Taiwan.
"There are four extra sites scattered around the Philippines - there are some in the north, there are some around Palawan, there are some further south," Marcos told reporters at the sidelines of the Philippine army's founding anniversary.
The EDCA allows U.S. access to Philippine bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and building of facilities such as runways, fuel storage and military housing, but it is not a permanent presence.
The Philippines and the U.S. would announce the locations of the bases soon, Marcos said, adding the sites would boost the country's ability to defend the "eastern side" of its largest island, Luzon. Luzon is the closest main Philippine island to self-ruled Taiwan that China claims as its own.
China's foreign ministry on Wednesday reiterated its stance that the U.S. side was increasing tensions by strengthening its military deployments in the region, adding countries should be "vigilant" and avoid being used by the U.S..
"We generally believe that defence cooperation between countries should be conducive to regional peace and stability, and should not be aimed at third parties or harm the interests of third parties," spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters at a regular news briefing.
A former Philippine military chief has publicly said the U.S. had asked for access to bases in Isabela, Zambales and Cagayan, all on the island of Luzon, facing north towards Taiwan, and on Palawan in the southwest, near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Some leaders of local governments at the potential EDCA sites have opposed Marcos' decision, worried they would be dragged into a conflict if one arose between the U.S. and China over Taiwan.
But Marcos said his government has discussed with them the importance of the expanded U.S. access and "why it will actually be good for their provinces".
Washington has committed $80 million worth of infrastructure investments at the five existing sites - the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu and Lumbia Air Base in Mindanao.
Speaking before Philippine troops, Marcos told them to be vigilant as the external threat to security was becoming more "complex" and "unpredictable".
"Be vigilant against elements that will undermine our hard earned peace, our hard earned stability, continue to improve relations with your counterparts overseas," Marcos said.
Without giving specifics, Marcos said he was aware of an "emerging threat" to his country's territory, which he said would require "adjustments in our strategy".
"The external security environment is becoming more complex. It is becoming more unpredictable," Marcos said.
(Writing by Karen Lema; Editing by Ed Davies and Himani Sarkar)