Weighing war zones: ‘Pinocchio’ bases in Subic? The US, PN chief say yes, but DU30 and DND disagree

Adolfo Paglinawan / Phil-BRICS Strategic Studies / July 28, 2020

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana assured the public that no bases of American troops of any kind will be established or constructed on Subic Bay, Zambales.

“There will be no US base in Subic. I can assure you about that,” he said in a message to the Philippine News Agency when sought for comment.

Lorenzana also called the report claiming any information otherwise as “fake and misleading news.”

During his fifth State-Of-the-Nation-Address, President Rodrigo R. Duterte said that while he has nothing against the United States and China, he believes that allowing the Americans to set up a base in Subic Bay would be dangerous for the country in case war erupts, much like in World War II during the liberation of Manila, which became the second most devastated city after Warsaw, Poland.

“I’ll just put on record my thoughts. “Kaya kung maglagay lagay ka ng (And if you put a) base at this time this will ensure, if war breaks out because there would be atomic arsenals brought in, this will ensure the extinction of the Filipino race,” he said.

In an exclusive Viber exchange with Secretary Lorenzana, he sent SovereignPH this clarification.

“It is a commercial deal on Hanjin shipyard. Cerberus and Austal will take over. Part of their service is servicing US Navy ships. Repeat for servicing only, not a base for the US Navy,” the defense chief said.

“The news report that the US navy will return to Subic is a play of words to put across a different meaning, “he added.

What Lorenzana told me, was no different from what Philippine Star One News reported last May 12, 2020.


But it seems that even Philippine Navy Vice Admiral Giovanni Bacordo has been promoting a different line.

Last May 10, he said “the United States Navy is planning to return to its former base in the Philippines under a commercial deal.”

Bacordo apes the gringo line “the United States Navy is planning to return to its former base…” but qualifies himself in the same sentence… “under a commercial deal.”

“An American equity firm and an Australian shipbuilder expressed keen interest in taking over the Subic shipyard from a bankrupt South Korean company. The two companies are in the final stages of negotiations with the Philippine government and several banks to take over the operations of Hanjin,” clarifies Bacordo.

Australian shipbuilder Austal Ltd has won a contract to deliver six offshore patrol vessels for the Philippines Navy while US private equity Cerberus will operate the other half of Hanjin’s facility for ship repair.

“I was told the companies were about to complete due diligence and final negotiations before the outbreak of the coronavirus, which could delay the process,” Bacordo said.

The Philippine Navy chief said it could take more than a year before the shipyard could become operational under the new owners because the facilities would be repurposed from producing huge civilian supertankers to warships.

Bacordo said Cerberus is the mother company of Dyna Corporation, a large private contractor of the US Navy, servicing US warships and building facilities at naval bases.

“Many of the workers in Hanjin had also worked in the US Navy base. Subic has one of the best port facilities in the world, with deep and secure harbors,” Bacordo noted.

The companies reportedly intend to invest about $2 billion and employ the shipyard’s over 30,000 skilled and experienced Filipino workforce.

The narrative then shifts from US Navy to Philippine Navy.

Bacordo said both the American and Australian companies would like the Philippine Navy to set up a naval base in Subic. “We will have about 100 hectares to develop as a naval facility for ship repair,” he said.

You see folks, this is where the President, the defense chief and the Navy seems to be in a dissonance.

Bacordo amplified from double speak to overspeak.

The two companies, he said, are also interested in two small islands in Subic that Chinese companies had earlier planned to lease and convert into tourism areas.

The Chinese companies had signed agreements in April 2019 during President Duterte’s visit to China for the lease of three islands in the Philippines, but this was blocked by the Navy.

“We prefer close allies to take over Subic,” Bacordo said, explaining that the Navy opposed the Chinese companies’ plan because of its implications on national security.

The PN preference for the United States is expected – most in its fleet are junks that came from our former colonial master.

A Chinese company has also expressed interest in taking over Subic, fierce lobbying by Washington reportedly blocked this.

The Lorenzana line contradicts Bacordo, “Also it is not true that a contract has been made with a Chinese company. Two Chinese companies made offers and that’s it. It never moved forward.”

Other implications

And this is where the President himself is being misunderstood.

Philippine bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement we signed with the US good up to 2024, are also made available for American basing in this country, a matter that should be put under a fine-tooth comb.

For the meantime he has suspended the effectivity of his own earlier scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement.

Investors have expressed concern after the Philippines revoked the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a key military accord allowing US military presence in the country for exercises and training. But Philippine officials have assured Australian and American investors that the commercial deal would not be affected by the scrapping of the VFA.

Hanjin, a unit of South Korean giant Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction, defaulted on $1.3 billion in loans last year. The bulk of the loan, about $900 million, is owed to South Korean banks and the rest to five local banks.

Even before the American and Australian companies expressed interest in Hanjin’s shipyard, US Navy ships have been making port calls in Subic, including massive aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered attack submarines.

On average, 80 to 100 US ships visit Subic every year. The return of ship repair facilities will increase traffic at the former US naval base.

In his SONA, the President emphasized on an independent foreign policy and warned that because the US brings in its atomic arsenals, a war breaking out will ensure the extinction of the Filipino race

Subic Bay was one of the largest US naval facilities in the world before it was shut down in 1992 after the Philippine Senate terminated the bases agreement with Washington. The Philippines converted the facility, which was never home to the Philippine military, into an economic zone.

Different strokes

Maintaining the posture of Subic as a commercial and industrial freeport is strategic to the Philippine economy. Militarizing Subic is an oxymoron that will drive away investors from the area.

So allow me to correct certain impressions regarding the Philippine Navy’s somewhat sinophobic posture.

First, China would of course be interested in Subic, but the notion will never pass a second thought.

The Diplomat reports that China’s Yulin Naval Base in the Hainan province of China is shaping up to be the most strategically important military base in the South China Sea. The repositioning by the People’s Liberation Army of its navy to Hainan island province has been prioritized due to the rapid transformation of China’s naval force from brown water (riverine and littoral) orientation in the 1980s to green (near-to-shore or littoral), looking to the near future as a full-blown blue water maritime force capable of operating globally, essentially across the deep waters of open oceans.

Blue-water capability, however, China intends only for regional defense.

Yulin is only 650 nautical miles from Subic.

China’s deployment at Spratlys

Second, Derek Grossman writing for think-tank Rand Corporation explains that since China announced its expansive sovereignty claims in the South China Sea (SCS) in 2009, Beijing has sought to legitimize and secure its disputed territorial claims in the SCS.

The China Coast Guard (CCG) is the highly formidable force that Beijing deploys to do the job. Beijing’s coast guard fleet is at least 190,000 tons, making it by far the largest coast guard force in terms of tonnage in the region and in the world.

But Beijing has also fortified multiple forward operating bases with anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) along with underground storage facilities, hangars, radars, and sensor arrays.

In late June 2019, Beijing conducted anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) tests in the vicinity near the disputed Spratly islands to showcase the Chinese military’s growing counter-intervention capabilities to deter the U.S. and its allies.

China conducted major dredging operations between 2013 and 2017 to deepen port facilities to berth deeper draft ships such as those responsible for resupply and maintenance as well as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.

Reclamation has also produced at least 3,200 acres of new land in the Spratlys clearing the way for construction of air strips on three of the seven Beijing-controlled Spratly Island features, including on Fiery, Mischief, and Subi reefs.

Regardless, these deployments and upgrades across the SCS have significantly enhanced PLA power projection against regional adversaries. If ever faced with armed conflict in the SCS, China has significant naval, marine, coast guard, and maritime militia forces to bring to bear.

This is why recently US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently sent his dick nearby in the American tradition of gunboat diplomacy by deploying not just one but two aircraft carriers — the Ronald Reagan and the Nimitz — “in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” accompanied by warships and aircraft to conduct exercises to improve air defense and long-range missile strikes in “a rapidly evolving area of operations.”

Third and last, it would only take not more than 7 minutes for China’s Dong Feng 5 and 26 launch missiles, with five Multiple Independently-targetable Reentry Vehicles each descending at Mach 35 to send the Philippines to kingdom come.

So why will China locate at Subic?

Chinese expansion to Subic, according to Rod Kapunan, is yet another information war the US uses to fan flames of mistrust to Asean, feigning itself as big brother.

Asean is near to agreeing a Code of Conduct among its members and China, dagger that will strike deep into the heart of American freedom of navigation unilateral doctrine.

The US Navy is the most frequent intruder of the territorial jurisdiction of the members of Asean, especially the Philippines.

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