Governor leads opposition to expanded US access to Philippine military sites

'Please do not ram into our throats what is unacceptable to us,' Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba says.
Jason Gutierrez for BenarNews
2023.03.01
Manila
Governor leads opposition to expanded US access to Philippine military sites Amphibious Assault Vehicles carrying U.S. and Philippine troops head toward the beach during Kamandag 6, a joint military exercise in Zambales province, northwest of Manila, Oct. 7, 2022.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

A Philippine governor whose province is believed to be among four new locations chosen to host U.S. troops at military bases did not hold back in stating his opposition to the reported decision, during testimony before the Senate on Wednesday.

Filipino defense and security officials also testified at the hearing but they all refused to reveal the names of the locations of the bases when grilled with questions about them.

During his testimony Gov. Manuel Mamba of Cagayan, a province at the northern tip of Luzon island that directly faces Taiwan, said he believed his jurisdiction had been selected under a newly expanded bilateral military deal with the United States but that he had not been notified.

“Please do not ram into our throats what is not acceptable to us,” Mamba told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing chaired by Sen. Imee Marcos, the sister of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.  

Cagayan in the past had hosted large-scale joint military training exercises, said Mamba who argued that if China attacked Taiwan, his province would be directly affected if American troops were deployed there.

He said he had told off American diplomats, including defense attachés from the U.S. Embassy who visited him when he previously opposed live-fire joint military exercises in his province. Mamba claimed they had dangled possible investments in Cagayan, but that he stood his ground.

“We will have sleepless nights. We are the closest and we would be hit in case that happens,” Mamba said, referring to a feared Chinese invasion of Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.

As governor, Mamba said he was looking out for the welfare of the people of Cagayan, and that should only rest on commerce and trade.

“We do not want to be an enemy to any country, nor do we want to be used to threaten any country. We will defend the Philippines from any enemy even with sticks and stones, but we will not be fodder to a fight that is not our own,” Mamba testified.

“Solutions to regional tensions will only end badly for us not involved in this show of might between two superpowers. The only military forces we want in Cagayan are members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” he said.

When Imee Marcos asked Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. whether rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait were the key reason for why the four additional bases would be located in the northern Philippines, he responded: “I cannot categorically answer the question.”

Sen. Marcos said she echoed Mamba’s sentiments because other local government units had told her that they were also not consulted. The Marcos clan is from the northern Ilocos region, which is also in northern Luzon.

The Philippines once hosted the largest American bases in Southeast Asia until they were shut down when their lease was not extended in the early 1990s.

Still, the country remains a strategic location for U.S. interests, including the free flow of trade and commerce in the contested South China Sea. 

Cagayan is a relatively short distance from Taiwan, which hosts some 150,000 Filipino migrants, the third largest contingent of foreigners there.

Both Taiwan and the Philippines also have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, along with China, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

Trapped between two superpowers

The flurry of discussions about U.S. basing here comes amid fears that China could attack Taiwan in the next few years. One American general recently predicted that war was likely to break out in 2025.

The new bases available to Washington fall under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed in 2014 as a supplement to the Visiting Forces Agreement. Signed in 1999, the VFA is a bilateral pact providing legal cover for large-scale joint military exercises between the U.S. and Philippines.

Analysts had said that allowing the Americans greater access to more military facilities in the Philippines was likely in preparation for a potential invasion of Taiwan by China.

During the same hearing on Wednesday, Sen. Risa Hontiveros, a lawmaker from the opposition, hit out at China for its repeated aggression against its smaller neighbors, including the Philippines.

While she said that support by the international community was welcome, Manila now finds itself trapped between two superpowers.

“Let me just emphasize that we should not allow ourselves to be trapped in between two warring powers, the two hegemons – the U.S. and China – but instead focus our efforts on building multilateral partnerships that could provide for joint patrols and training of our troops,” she said. 

“A broader coalition is a better coalition.”

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news organization.

POST A COMMENT

Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.