Sunday, June 25, 2017

AFP prods SBMA on Subic military base expansion

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 25): AFP prods SBMA on Subic military base expansion

US aircraft lands at the Subic Bay International Airport during a military exercise. —Allan Macatuno
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — A ranking official of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has asked the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) to allow a planned expansion of a military base in this former US naval station to proceed as planned.

Philippine Navy commander Vice Admiral Joseph Mercado made the appeal after SBMA Administrator Wilma Eisma notified Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in March about the freeport’s intention to rescind the 2015 memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the AFP and SBMA.

The MOA, drawn up during the administration of former SBMA Chair and Administrator Roberto Garcia, allowed the AFP to make Subic the military’s forward operating base due to its strategic location.
Air Force fighter jets and Navy frigates could respond faster to any emergency in the West Philippine Sea from a base here.

In a June 21 letter to SBMA Chair Martin Diño, Mercado appealed to both Diño and Eisma to reconsider the agency’s position.

Under the MOA, the Air Force was obligated to rehabilitate a 13-hectare portion of the Subic Bay International Airport where shipping giant Federal Express (FedEx) used to operate. The AFP was to use part of the military modernization fund to finance the rehabilitation.

Eisma cited the AFP’s failure to fulfill its obligation of restoring the airport and seaports as one of the reasons for revoking the agreement.

Eisma also argued that the government would gain more economic benefits from the commercial use of the airport.

“While your Navy fully supports the economic agenda of SBMA, the [expansion] area is of vital interest to national security which public and economic gain cannot be readily quantified,” Mercado said in his letter.

The Rivera Wharf and Alava Pier at Subic were the only ports outside Metro Manila that could shelter and safely accommodate three Del Pilar Class frigates and the two newly acquired Strategic Sealift Vessels of the AFP, he said.

The two ports would also house the two brand new frigates that the government planned to acquire from South Korea, Mercado added.

“Aside from the readily available wharf and pier, the location of SBMA has strategic importance for the Navy since it is the nearest and safest port fronting the West Philippine Sea,” Mercado said.

The disputed Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc is located in the West Philippine Sea off the coast of Zambales.

The shoal is about 260 kilometers west of Subic Bay. It was the site of the tense stand-off between the Philippines and China in 2012

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