MANILA (PhilAmPress) – The United States has no plans to reopen US military bases in the Philippines.
This was stressed by US Ambassador to Manila Harry Thomas during a forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP).
Thomas, at the same time, called for the adoption of a strong and legally binding code of conduct to prevent from erupting into armed conflict the territorial disputes over the Spratlys and nearby islands, shoals, atolls, cays and reefs in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea territories, which are believed to be harboring rich minerals and oil reserves, are claimed in part or in whole by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. One of the islands there called Kalayaan is a town of Palawan province and is maintained by military troops.
“We think that it is important for the United States to remain engaged in Asia. Asia is a huge trading partner for us and contributes so much to exports and imports to our economy. In order to have that we need freedom of navigation, we need freedom of seas and we need stability,” Thomas pointed out.
Thomas said US will agree to any Philippine government plan to review a defense treaty allowing American military presence in the country. The Philippines is a sovereign country has the right to review that treaty, he said.
He added that US troops would remain in Mindanao as long as the government wants them to help fight continuing terror threats there.
He explained that the US already has a strong presence in Asia that building a base in the Philippines is not feasible.
Thomas said the US is expanding its military base in Guam, which is only four hours away from the Philippines, and currently maintains installations in Japan and South Korea. Some troops from Japan and Korea will move later to Guam.
About 40,000 to 50,000 Filipino workers may be needed to construct the expanded military base in Guam, he said.
“Why do we need bases in the Philippines?” he asked. “There’s no requirement nor would we ask for bases in the Philippines. I don’t know how much clearer we could be on this.”
Since 2002, hundreds of American soldiers have been deployed to Mindanao on a rotation basis to provide combat training and weapons to the Philippine military fighting extremist groups, blamed for country’s worst terrorist attacks.
There are more than 500 US Special Forces personnel who are scattered in the Zamboanga peninsula and nearby islands of Basilan,Tawi-Tawi and Central Mindanao to train local soldiers to combat the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group, which is in the US State Department’s foreign terrorist organization list.
The presence of American troops in the South has fanned speculations that they are directly involved in combat operations against terrorists and are building a military base there.
US officials, however, denied the allegations that the US soldiers are involved in combat operations themselves.
Thomas reiterated that the US military’s role in Mindanao is limited to giving advice and training to the Philippine armed forces.
Thomas stressed in the forum that the US is committed to provide intelligence and support to the Armed Forces of the Philippines to eradicate Muslim extremist groups like the Sulu-based Abu Sayyaf and the JemaahIslamiyah in Mindanao and pave the way for the development of the region ravaged by decades-old conflicts and war.
“The US values the Philippines as a partner in the effort against international terrorism. Our security cooperation is vital in our counter terrorism efforts but also in efforts to provide better lives to citizens,” Thomas said.
Thomas said terrorism remains a serious global threat and that international cooperation is needed to fight the menace.
“Terrorism, trans-national terror, is not something that you could wave a magic wand and it’s gone,” he said, noting that “simple reduction of the threat is insufficient because one person can threaten and harm this nation.”