MANILA, Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has given the go-ahead for the U.S. military to build barracks and fuel depots in designated local camps where American forces are allowed to temporarily station under a 2014 defense pact, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Tuesday.
Duterte last month threatened to abrogate the agreement if the United States stores weapons in local camps, saying his country may get entangled if fighting erupts between China and the U.S. He identified three areas where U.S. forces were supposedly bringing in their armaments, including the western Philippine province of Palawan, which faces the disputed South China Sea.
He had said if the U.S. builds an arms depot "I will consider a review and maybe ultimately abrogate" the pact all together.
"I don't know where the president got his information but I corrected it," Lorenzana told reporters Tuesday. He said he also told Duterte that construction in the camps has not started and was scheduled later this year or next year.
"I actually asked his decision if we will continue with the EDCA construction or not," Lorenzana added. "He said OK, let's proceed, but make sure that there is no stockpiling of ammunition there."
The defense chief said he explained to Duterte that the stockpiling of weapons is not allowed by the agreement. The pact allows the U.S. military to build big barracks that can be jointly used by American and Filipino troops, and to put up fuel tanks for their planes and vehicles.
Lorenzana said most of the equipment that the Americans will be bringing to the country will be for humanitarian assistance and disaster response, including rubber boats.
When U.S. troops come to the Philippines for exercises, they will bring their rifles and their ammunition but will take the weapons back with them when they return to the United States, he added.
Duterte took office in June and has moved to rebuild once-frosty relations with China while repeatedly threatening to scale back military exercises with American troops and stop agreements that allow U.S. forces to visit.