The United States is not building any weapons depot anywhere in the Philippines, the U.S. ambassador said Tuesday, denying the basis on which President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to abrogate a 2014 defense pact that allows U.S. forces to temporarily base in local camps.
Ambassador Sung Kim said that nothing is being planned now that even closely resembles a weapons depot.
“I think perhaps some misinformation was given to the president and that is why he made the statement expressing concerns about a possible weapons depot,” Kim told a forum of business leaders. “The fact is, we are not building a weapons depot anywhere in the Philippines.”
Projects being pursued under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement have to do with disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, he added.
Kim also pointed out that the agreement “provide[s] for us to build facilities and structures in 5 Filipino bases” and it is “hard to imagine that we would be able to do anything on Filipino bases that are not acceptable to the Filipino people, Filipino leadership.”
Duterte on Sunday identified three areas where U.S. forces were supposedly bringing in armaments, including the western province of Palawan, which faces the disputed South China Sea.
He said he would not allow the Americans to store weapons in local camps under the two countries' defense pact because the Philippines may get entangled if fighting erupts between China and the U.S.
“I'm serving notice to the armed forces of the United States, do not do it, I will not allow it,” Duterte said in the televised news conference after meeting top military and police officials.
He said if the U.S. builds a depot “I will consider a review and maybe ultimately abrogate” the pact all together.
Duterte has moved to rebuild once-frosty relations with China and has vowed to make Philippine foreign policy less dependent on the U.S. He has repeatedly threatened to scale back military exercises with American troops and stop agreements that allow U.S. forces to visit.