Philip­pines to open mil­i­tary base near dis­puted S. China Sea even with­out US

The China Post - - SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT - BY JIM GOMEZ

The Philip­pine air force and navy will go ahead with a plan to open camps in a bustling freeport fac­ing the dis­puted South China Sea even if a pro­posed Amer­i­can mil­i­tary pres­ence doesn’t hap­pen, the de­fense sec­re­tary said Fri­day.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Voltaire Gazmin, un­veiled plans two years ago to open air force and navy camps at the Su­bic Bay Freeport so fighter jets and frigates can re­spond faster to any con­tin­gency in the dis­puted wa­ters where the Philip­pines has been fac­ing an as­sertive main­land China, which claims most of the area.

The Philip­pines signed an ac­cord last year to al­low al­lied Amer­i­can forces to tem­po­rar­ily sta­tion in camps in­clud­ing Su­bic, but the pact be­came un­cer­tain af­ter left-wing groups ques­tioned its con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity at the Supreme Court.

While a U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence in the camps would help, Gazmin said the gov­ern­ment would pro­ceed to con­struct the bases soon even if the court even­tu­ally de­cides against ac­cess for U.S. troops.

The Philip­pines has scram­bled to mod­ern- ize its mil­i­tary, once of Asia’s weak­est. It has bought 12 new South Korean fighter jets with the first two to be de­liv­ered later this year and sta­tioned at Su­bic, Gazmin said.

Su­bic Bay, about 80 kilo­me­ters ( 50 miles) north­west of Manila, used to host Washington’s largest naval base out­side the Amer­i­can main­land un­til it was closed down in 1992, end­ing nearly a cen­tury of U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence. Three years af­ter, main­land China seized a strate­gic reef also claimed by Manila, prompt­ing Philip­pine sen­a­tors to rat­ify the pact that al­lowed Amer­i­can forces to re­turn for an­nual com­bat drills.

Roberto Gar­cia, the Su­bic ad­min­is­tra­tor, said an air­port and seaport will have a dual mil­i­tarycivil­ian use.

Busi­nesses, in­clud­ing ho­tels and restau­rants, would likely back the re­turn of mil­i­tary per­son­nel, he said.

Amer­i­can per­son­nel from the USNS Mercy, a huge hos­pi­tal ship docked in Su­bic for an an­nual hu­man­i­tar­ian mis­sion, swarmed shop­ping malls and restau­rants. “There was a guy who brought two Christ­mas lanterns to his ship,” Gar­cia said.

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