President Rodrigo Duterte has accused the United States of building permanent arms depots in the Philippines, but the Philippine military later contradicted him, saying the US is not building any weapons stores or armouries.
Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, the military spokesman, told reporters yesterday that Mr Duterte's concerns had been looked into "and it was found that there was no confirmed incident of this nature. We have no information that there was (any unloading of weapons)".
He said Mr Duterte could have misunderstood a report from last year's joint military exercises with the US when tanks were unloaded at a harbour in Subic Bay.
Late on Sunday, Mr Duterte said the US was in breach of a defence pact that could stoke tensions with China. "I am serving notice to the… United States. Do not do it. I will not allow it… A depot, by any other name, is a depot. It's a permanent structure to house arms," he said in a late evening news conference.
He said this was a breach of a 2014 defence deal between Manila and Washington as the depots were permanent structures not allowed in the agreement.
His comments came after the Pentagon gave the green light to build warehouses, barracks and runways this year under the 10-year Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (Edca).
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the US would be constructing some facilities at three military bases in the Philippines.
Brig-Gen Padilla said the US cannot store or stockpile arms in military bases in the Philippines. Only rubber boats, generator sets and materials for building shelters could be stored. He said the US may also put up fuel depots, but not arms depots.
Another senior general, who declined to be identified because he is not authorised to speak to the media, told Reuters that the US had yet to bring in any materials to upgrade the Philippine bases that will host American troops. "These facilities, like runways, are to be used jointly," he said, adding US-built warehouses would be owned by the Philippines.
Mr Duterte said on Sunday that the US presence in the Philippines was putting regional stability at risk and dragging the Philippines into the middle of a conflict between Washington and Beijing over the South China Sea. "The missiles of China are pointed at the American expedition here. It's not about the money. Even without that, I will not allow my people to needlessly die," he said.
He said he also gave his "solemn commitment" to China's President Xi Jinping that he is supportive of a resolution of disputes over the South China Sea through dialogue.
Edca allows the expansion of rotational deployment of US ships, aircraft and troops at five bases in the Philippines as well as the storage of equipment for humanitarian and maritime security operations.
Mr Duterte has repeatedly threatened to tear up security deals with the US, while also giving guarantees those would be honoured, muddying the waters in a relationship that, before his election, was one of Washington's most crucial Asian alliances.