By Martin Petty
MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte accused the United States on Sunday of risking regional stability by building permanent arms depots in his country, and threatened to respond by scrapping a security treaty between them.
Duterte, who has made no secret of his disdain for the U.S. troop presence in the Philippines, said Washington was bringing weapons into three provinces of his country to store permanently, which he said was a dangerous breach of a defense deal between them.
“They’re unloading arms in the Philippines now ... I’m serving notice to the armed forces of the United States. Do not do it, I will not allow it,” Duterte told a televised news conference.
“Provisions of the Visiting Forces (Agreement), there shall be no permanent facilities. A depot is by any other name a depot. It’s a permanent structure to house arms.”
He added: “I do not even know if there is a nuclear tip (missile) now, that they are unloading.”
His comments come after the Pentagon gave the green light to build warehouses, barracks and runways this year under a 2014 Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the two longtime allies.
If U.S. arsenals were built in the Philippines, Duterte said he would consider a review of treaties “and maybe ultimately abrogate, since it is an executive order.”
EDCA allows the expansion of rotational deployment of U.S. ships, aircraft and troops at five bases in the Philippines as well as the storage of equipment for humanitarian and maritime security operations.
Duterte has repeatedly threatened to tear up security deals with the United States, while also giving guarantees those would be honored, muddying the picture in a relationship that prior to his election was one of Washington’s most crucial Asian alliances.
He also chided the United States for pressuring the Philippines to enforce a ruling last year by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that invalidated most of Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea.
Duterte has done the opposite and has sought to create warm ties and secure investment from China rather than confront it. In a stunning about-face in Manila’s foreign policy, he has put the arbitration award on the back burner.
He said Washington was putting regional stability at risk and its actions could put the Philippines in “extreme danger” because of the posturing between the United States and China.
“You are egging us ... egging us (on) to force the issue of arbitral judgment,” he said, referring to the United States.
“The missiles of China are pointed at the American expeditions,” he said, referring to its naval patrols. “A depot would serve as a supply line.”
Duterte said he had an “urgent” message to China, asking it to help provide precision-guided missiles so Philippine troops could fight Islamic State-linked militants in the south.
He said the court ruling on the South China Sea would be discussed with China when the time was right.
“I made a commitment to President Xi Jinping, I made a solemn commitment that we will talk about this arbitral award during my term. When, I really do not know, but we will talk hard,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Stephen Powell)