Duterte to allow PH to be US transshipment point, not launching pad in case of Iran war
President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday he will allow the Philippines to be the transshipment point of the United States, but not a launching pad for its missiles in case a war breaks out in the Middle East.
In an interview in Malacanang, Duterte said this would be pursuant to the Visiting Forces Agreement and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US.
"We will continue to respect it (agreement with US) in transit. But to use the Philippines as a launching pad for - to fly the missile and the rockets, I do not think that...I have to stop them," he said.
"We allow ships of - the gray ships of other nations to park here and get some of their provisioning," Duterte added.
But he clarified that if US would invoke Filipino troops to join in the war, it is not automatic under the Mutual Defense Treaty.
"Unless the national interest would demand it, and it will be decided not by me, but me and Congress," he said.
Asked on the earlier statement of Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo that he would side with US if Filipinos get hurt in the Middle East due to Iran's possible retaliation with the US, Duterte said he did not want to side with any country.
"If (Filipinos are harmed), then we'll just have to move physically not only verbally. What it would consist of, I cannot, as of now, tell you. But we have asked the Department of the Defense to study on how they would make their way out. And I have asked also the Department of Finance to reserve a certain amount for that exigency if it ever comes," he said.
Further pressed on the possibility of siding with America, he said, "I hope that they (Iran) would do everything to assure the safety - that no Filipino gets hurt. Because as you have said, if someone would get hurt or there are casualties, then I would not like it. Then I have to rethink my position."
In a press briefing earlier in the day, Panelo said that during the 45th Cabinet meeting in Malacanang on Monday night, Duterte mentioned that the Philippines would not take a neutral stance in the event that armed confrontation takes place and there are Filipinos who would get hurt.
"We're not going to be neutral. The President was very specific in saying last night that if the Filipinos are harmed, he will side with the Americans," said Panelo.
"That is precisely why he specifically instructed (Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers) Secretary (Abdullah) Mamao to go to Iran and Iraq and deliver special message to the Iraqi and Iranian government of his urgent desire and wish that no Filipinos be harmed in the course of the conflict. If they will harm the Filipinos, then the President will not sit down idly and watch," he added.
However, asked what if there would be Filipinos who would get hurt due to US attack, the spokesman said it would be different if it would be an accident.
"What the President said is 'Don't drag the Filipinos in your fight with America...we are supposed to (be) allies of the Americans and the enemies might also attack not only the Americans but the allies of the Americans," he explained. Celerina Monte/DMS