Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the four new sites that the U.S. can access under an expanded defense agreement are intended to bolster the Southeast Asian nation’s capability to defend its territory, and not for any offensive moves.
“We will not allow our military bases to be used for any offensive action,” Marcos said Monday ahead of the start of the two allies’ annual joint military exercises.
“It is only meant to help the Philippines, when the Philippines is in need of help,” he said, according to a statement from his communications office.
The president last week identified the additional sites, namely a naval base and an airport in Cagayan province and a military camp in Isabela province — all near Taiwan — and Balabac Island in Palawan province near the South China Sea.
China said the move would only lead to more tensions and less peace and stability in the region.
“What we’re simply doing is continuing to strengthen defense of our territory, defense of the republic,” he said, adding the Philippines is only giving its ally, the U.S., “the chance to be able to come and help us in any way.”
The government in February granted U.S. troops access to four more Philippine military camps on top of five existing locations under the nations’ Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. The pact, signed in 2014, allows the U.S. to rotate its troops for prolonged stays as well as build and operate facilities on those bases in the Southeast Asian country.
Marcos’s comments come ahead of the start of the largest-ever military exercises between Philippine and American troops on Tuesday, which run through April 28.
Some 12,000 U.S. forces are scheduled to be deployed in various parts of the country during the drills, while 5,000 Filipino troops will participate, Philippine military spokesman Medel Aguilar said. Around 111 members of the Australian defense force will also join along with observers from 12 countries, he added.