MANILA (Reuters) - The United States is not creating weapons stores or armories in the Philippines, military officials said on Monday, contradicting President Rodrigo Duterte who has complained of a U.S. breach of a defense pact that could stoke regional tension.
Duterte on Sunday accused the United States of stirring up trouble by building permanent arms depots in his country, including delivering tanks, and threatened to respond by scrapping a security treaty between them.
The volatile leader, who has made no secret of his disdain for the U.S. troop presence in the Philippines, said the United States could drag his country into a conflict with China over the South China Sea, something he said would not let happen.
Military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla said the president’s concern had been looked into and the U.S. military’s activities were to help the Philippines to better handle natural disasters.
“There was no confirmed incident of this nature,” he told reporters, referring to the accusations that arms were bring brought in.
“They are not allowed under the military agreement.”
Padilla said only rubber boats, generator sets and materials for building shelters would be stored in Philippine facilities.
Another senior general, who declined to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to media, said the United States had yet to bring in any materials for upgrades to bases, which the two countries would both use.
“These facilities, like runways, are to be used jointly,” the second general said, adding U.S.-built warehouses would be owned by the Philippines.
It was not the first time Duterte and his military have given conflicting messages about their decades-old alliance, which is one of Washington’s most important in Asia at a time when China’s economic and military power is expanding.
Duterte’s comments came after the Pentagon gave the green light for upgrades and construction of barracks, runways and storage facilities this year under a 2014 Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
The defense agreement covers rotational deployment of U.S. ships, aircraft and troops at five bases in the Philippines, and the storage of equipment for humanitarian and maritime security purposes.
The second general, who is involved in the country’s military activities with other nations, said the agreement would ultimately help the Philippines to protect its extensive maritime borders.
“Our air and naval capability to cover these disputed areas are less than 50 percent, so we need our allies to help and inform us about developments in the South China Sea,” he added.
Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty, Robert Birsel