Short answer: Yes
Amid the ongoing tension between the United States and China, the Philippines has expressed willingness to let the US forces use its military bases “in the event of a Taiwan conflict,” including a naval base.
The superpower countries continue to tread on thin ice, with China maintaining its movement around Taiwan and the South China Sea while the US supporting the surrounding Asian countries in monitoring and surveilling any suspicious activities.
Just recently, Chinese and US Air Force pilots had exchanged “verbal blows” over the radio, with the former ordering the latter to fly out of the Taiwan Strait while frantically claiming they have “entered China’s territorial airspace.” In response, the US pilot said it had not violated any military laws in the international airspace and was exercising its rights accordingly. Days later, China posted a video showcasing its latest weapon, the FH-901 suicide drone, in a live-firing event, with reports claiming it is as powerful as the US reconnaissance drones such as the CH-4 and the CH-5.
With this, the Philippines Ambassador expressed concern about this rising tension as the country is sitting in the middle. “Nobody wants to have any kind of war or confrontation,” Philippines Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez said in an interview with Nikkei Asia. “We want to ask both countries to lessen the tension by having more dialogue and then trying to resolve all of these issues, because it’s in our part of the world.”
While Manila has taken a neutral stance on the status of Taiwan, in the event of a conflict, it said it would open its doors to the US forces and use the country as a staging ground.
US Military Base Back In The Philippines?
The US forces used to have two military bases in the country, a naval base in Subic Bay and the former Clark Air Base, and were known as America’s largest overseas military community. However, a deteriorating bilateral relationship plus the destruction caused by the 1990 volcanic eruption pushed the US forces out of the country.
While former President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed to let the American forces back, the materialization of the plan was either too slow or postponed and at some point even threatened to kick American troops out of the country altogether. As a result, only the warehouse at Cesar Air Base in Luzon was completed out of the supposed visiting facilities that would accommodate the US forces under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. The agreement includes the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan (Luzon); the Benito Ebbed Air Base in Mactan, Cebu (Visayas); Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija (Luzon); and Lumbia Airfield in Cagayan de Oro (Mindanao).
Despite welcoming a new president in June, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., Romualdez said the base access plans will still ensue “hopefully, in the next three years, that we can have all of these areas that we have identified already.”
The ambassador also disclosed that “Manila is in talks with Washington to increase the number of Philippine military bases that American forces can use,” in addition to the earlier mentioned five bases.
“Our military and the military of the United States are all looking into what are the possible areas,” Romualdez said, adding that the expanded base access may include a naval base.
Meanwhile, the Nikkei Asia reported that an unnamed Pentagon spokesperson said the US and the Philippines “hold regular discussions on deepening our enduring security alliance under the auspices of the Mutual Defense Treaty and multiple other agreements, including the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.”
The spokesperson further added that the allies seek to enhance their alliance’s posture to address new and emerging challenges.
“We intend to continue to implement infrastructure projects at current EDCA locations and explore additional sites for further development,” the spokesperson said.
In The Middle
A conflict over Taiwan would also mean security and economic troubles in the Philippines. The latter country has already suffered an ongoing economic crisis, and the additional disruption of goods coming in and out would further plunge it. Since the US military seeks to distribute its forces along the “first island chain” that stretches from Japan to Southeast Asia, the geopolitical importance of the Philippines is growing, and opening its doors to the superpower country would only make sense.
During his first State of the Nation address, the son of the country’s late dictator said it would not “abandon even one inch of territory” to any foreign power.
“I will not preside over any process that will abandon even one square inch of territory of the Republic of the Philippines to any foreign power,” Marcos said.
But unlike its predecessor, Marcos Jr. doesn’t have the so-called “anti-American chip,” and if worse comes to worst, it would most likely adhere to the request for access of the US forces if indeed a major conflict broke out between the superpowers over Taiwan.