SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) denied that the special economic zone in Zambales is being turned into a U.S. Navy base as claimed by President Rodrigo Duterte during his public address on Monday.
S.B.M.A. Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma said that visits by U.S. Navy ships to Subic Bay Freeport Zone only last for a few days, and are allowed under the Visiting Forces Agreement (V.F.A.).
The agreement was once again under threat, as Mr. Duterte wants the U.S. to pay the country's government for its visits. He said that "From now on, you want the Visiting Forces Agreement done, you have to pay. It’s a shared responsibility but your share of responsibility does not come free because, after all, when the war breaks out, we all pay."
In 2020, a series of V.F.A. terminations were suspended, and the S.B.M.A. welcomed it. It also raised hopes for the freeport and the Philippine Navy itself. Last week, Mr. Duterte wanted it to end again and claimed that the freeport is being turned by the United States into its military base.
"The port visits by these foreign military vessels last for only a few days, enough for disembarkation and re-embarkation of troops and assets in case of military exercises under the V.F.A., or simply for ship re-supply and onshore visit by the crew in other cases. These visits have not in any way converted Subic Bay Freeport into a military base," Ms. Eisma said.
She added that Subic Bay Freeport Zone is independent, as well as its agency that is committed into becoming a "self-sustaining industrial, commercial, financial and investment center" by attracting local and foreign investments that will provide employment opportunities to Filipinos.
As Mr. Duterte made the statements against the U.S., Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana turned down requests for comments from journalists covering the assumption of the new Army commanding general, Lt. Gen. Jose Faustino, Jr.
Vice President Leni Robredo and Senator Ping Lacson also crticized Mr. Duterte on his statement that Washington will "have to pay" to keep its Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines.