The Philippine president is ready to open the country’s “facilities” to American forces under a 1951 mutual defense treaty if Russia's war against Ukraine turns for the worse and embroils the United States in the fighting, Manila’s ambassador to Washington said Thursday.
Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez said President Rodrigo Duterte made the remarks in a recent meeting in Manila where the president also expressed concern over the global economic impact of the unfolding crisis.
The Philippines has condemned the invasion and voted yes on a UN General Assembly resolution that demanded an immediate halt to Moscow’s attack and the withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukraine.
Duterte, whose stormy six-year term ends in June, has nurtured closer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping while often criticizing US security policies in the first years of his presidency. But Romualdez said Duterte told him that that the Russian invasion was wrong.
“He says if they’re asking for the support of the Philippines, it’s very clear that, of course, if push comes to shove, the Philippines will be ready to be part of the effort, especially if this Ukrainian crisis spills over to the Asian region,” Romualdez said in an online briefing with Manila-based journalists.
“Give them the assurance that if ever needed, the Philippines is ready to offer whatever facilities or whatever things that the United States will need being a major — our number one ally.”
Duterte did not specify in his remarks which Philippine facilities American forces would gain access to, but Romualdez said these could include the sprawling Clark and Subic Bay freeports northwest of Manila that used to be among the largest American air and naval bases outside the US mainland until US forces withdrew from them in the early 1990s.
There was no immediate comment from Duterte or his office.
The 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty commits the United States and the Philippines to come to the aid of the other in case of an attack. American officials have repeatedly assured their Philippine counterparts in recent years that they would honor their treaty obligations if Filipino forces, ships or aircraft come under attack in the disputed South China Sea, including by China.
US national security officials have scheduled a meeting at the White House with ambassadors of the Association of Southeast Asian nations this week to discuss the widening sanctions imposed by the US on Russia, including President Joe Biden’s ban on Russian oil imports, Romualdez said.
Romualdez also said he learned that Ukraine has appealed to many nations, including the Philippines, “to stop doing business with Russia” but said he was unaware if the request has been officially conveyed to Manila.
Another topic at the meeting with US officials this week is Biden’s invitation to ASEAN heads of state to take part in a special US summit on March 28. The 76-year-old Duterte may skip the event because it falls on his birthday and also because it will occur during the busy Philippine elections season, Romualdez said.