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10 Mar, 2022 19:32

Country opens doors to US troops if Russia conflict spills into Asia

Ambassador says Philippines is willing to host US forces if Ukraine crisis escalates into hot war between Washington and Moscow
Country opens doors to US troops if Russia conflict spills into Asia

Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte has picked a side militarily in the US-led battle with Russia over the Ukraine crisis, pledging to host American forces if requested should the conflict bubble up into a hot war and spread to Asia.

Duterte is ready to open any facilities requested to US troops, Jose Manuel Romualdez, ambassador to Washington for the Philippines, told reporters on Thursday in Manila. That support would include use of any Philippine assets, “without restriction,” the envoy said, citing comments that Duterte made in a meeting last week.

“He says if they’re asking for the support of the Philippines, he was very clear, if push comes to shove, the Philippines would be ready to be part of the effort, especially if this Ukraine crisis spills over to the Asia region,” Romualdez said. “He offered that the Philippines would be ready to open its doors, especially to our ally the United States, in using our facilities, any facilities that they may need.”

Though they’ve imposed severe economic sanctions and sought to isolate Russia over its attack on Ukraine, the US and its NATO allies have tried to avoid a wider war with Moscow. President Vladimir Putin has warned against interventions that would be considered direct war with Russia, such as declaring a no-fly zone in Ukraine.

Duterte has had a rocky relationship with Washington since taking office in 2016, criticizing US policies and seeking to forge stronger ties with Russia and China. He had threatened to end Manila’s Visiting Forces Agreement with Washington, which allows US forces to train in the Southeast Asian country, then backed down last year after negotiating a larger aid package.

Ambassador Romualdez said the offer to support American forces in a war effort against Russia would abide with a 1951 mutual defense treaty that obligates the US and the Philippines to defend each other if either is attacked by another nation. Among the facilities that the Pentagon might find useful are the Clark and Subic Bay freeports, where the US used to have two of its biggest overseas military bases before turning them over to the Philippines in the early 1990s.

US officials have scheduled a security meeting at the White House with ambassadors of its Southeast Asian allies to discuss the sanctions slapped on Russia, Romualdez said. President Joe Biden has also invited Southeast Asian heads of state for a meeting on March 28. The ambassador said Duterte might not be able to attend, partly because the Philippines’ election season is heating up.

The presidential election is slated for May 9 and Duterte’s six-year term is scheduled to end on June 30. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the country’s former dictator, is the frontrunner in the race. His running mate is Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte. Marcos Jr. last week called for Russia to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty after previously drawing criticism for saying he didn’t see the need for the Philippines to take a side in the conflict.