Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Friday said the Subic and Clark military bases are not among the new sites approved under a bilateral defense pact with the United States.
In an exclusive interview with Kyodo News in Tokyo, Marcos said, "We do not have any plans for that right now. The two (former) American bases are Subic and Clark, they're not included in the proposed bases" under the pact that allows U.S. forces to use military bases in the Southeast Asian country.
Manila and Washington agreed to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement in 2014, allowing the U.S. military to use areas in the Southeast Asian country to enhance interoperability in responding to crises such as those concerning the South China Sea.
Philippine defense secretary Carlito Galvez and his U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin approved a plan earlier this month to add four locations as candidate sites to be used by the U.S. military, bringing the total number of such sites under the agreement to nine.
Marcos did not elaborate on the envisioned new locations during the interview. The United States returned its naval base in the Subic Bay area some 30 years ago and the Philippines built a naval base nearby last year.
The 2014 pact is a supplement to the Visiting Forces Agreement between the United States and the Philippines that allows the former to build facilities and position assets in key Philippine military bases.
The Philippines and China have overlapping claims in parts of the South China Sea, areas believed to be rich in minerals, gas and oil deposits, and other marine resources.
Marcos said a tripartite agreement with the United States and Japan was discussed during his five-day visit to Tokyo from Wednesday and "it is something that we certainly are going to be studying upon my return to the Philippines."
Such an agreement should be part of the process of strengthening trilateral ties in "confusing" and "dangerous" situations, Marcos said, citing uncertainties related to the South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific region as well as the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
"It is part of an ongoing process that we are undertaking to make more solid partnerships and alliances that we are beginning to put together in our area," he said.
Marcos added that signing a VFA with Japan, a U.S. ally, so that its Self-Defense Forces can take part in joint military exercises in the Philippines "certainly deserves a good deal of thought." The SDF have participated in joint drills for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the Philippines as their activities overseas are strictly limited under Japan's war-renouncing Constitution.
In a joint statement following Thursday's summit between Marcos and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Tokyo expressed its support for the 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration that invalidated China's sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea.
Asked how he intends to resolve the Philippines' territorial issues with China, Marcos said the Southeast Asian country needs an independent foreign policy "because we cannot allow ourselves to return to the situation in the Cold War where we, the small and medium powers, had to choose between the Soviet Union and the United States."
"The ASEAN concept of Asian centrality, I think, from that we can derive very clearly that we will not, we should not allow the future of our region to be decided by powers that are outside that region," he said.
Aside from defense and security, Marcos said a wide range of topics came up during his meeting with Kishida, including those that involve agriculture, digital communication, and business investments.
Marcos also invited Kishida for a return visit, as he expressed willingness to participate in the commemorative summit Japan is hosting with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations late this year.
"The attention that our Asian neighbors, outside of ASEAN, have paid to ASEAN just highlighted the importance of ASEAN, as we are trying to navigate through (this) very difficult time...in terms of geopolitics in the region," he said.
On the recent handover of four men wanted in connection with a series of robberies across Japan, Marcos called the matter an "unnecessary problem" that had been solved before he embarked on the state visit.
He said Japan initially sought the extradition of the four Japanese suspects, who are believed to have organized the crimes remotely using an encrypted messaging app while being held in a Manila immigration facility.
But after consulting with his justice minister, Marcos said he decided to go for deportation instead to avoid the "very long legal process" of extradition.
The Philippines deported the suspects in pairs, expelling the first two men a day before Marcos left for Tokyo and the second two hours after he arrived in Japan.