U.S. envoy says no American weapons buildup in Philippines

MANILA (Reuters) - The United States ambassador to the Philippines on Tuesday rebuffed accusations by President Rodrigo Duterte that American troops were building arms depots in five Philippine bases, in breach of a security deal.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures while speaking during a late night news conference at the presidential palace in Manila, Philippines January 30, 2017. REUTERS/Ezra Acayan

Duterte on Sunday said the United States had stockpiled weapons, including tanks, in three locations in the Philippines, which could provoke China and put his country in harm’s way.

Duterte then threatened to scrap a defense treaty between the two allies that is crucial to U.S. strategic interests in Asia.

“We are not building a weapons depot anywhere in the Philippines,” Ambassador Sung Kim told a forum at the influential Makati Business Club, adding facilities due to be built were to store equipment for disaster response.

He said the United States could not build anything on Philippine bases against the consent of the Philippine government, and its facilities are “not related to weapons”.

Philippine military officials on Monday contradicted Duterte and said his concern had been looked into, but there was nothing to back it up.

Sung said he had several lengthy discussions with top security officials including the defense minister, and promised to address some concerns. He said the alliance remained robust.

Duterte’s spokesman, Ernesto Abella declined to say what the president’s source of information was when he said American armories were being built.

“I cannot tell you that but he seems to be privy to some sort of information,” Abella told a news briefing.

“He may have come up on other confirmation that may have affected those comments.”

Duterte’s remarks came after the Pentagon approved upgrades and construction of barracks, runways and storage facilities this year under a 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that the outspoken president has scorn for.

The defense agreement covers rotational deployment of U.S. ships, aircraft and troops at five bases, and storage of equipment for humanitarian and maritime security missions.

Duterte has said he hates having American troops on Philippine soil. He has made efforts to improve ties with China, despite a long-running dispute over rival claims in the South China Sea.

Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Writing by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty