After a warm welcome to the Philippines today by President Ferdinand Marcos, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger told reporters he did not expect serious problems in resolving questions about continued operation of huge American air and naval facilities here.
Clark Air Base is the largest U.S. military installation outside the United States, and the naval base at Subic Bay, which services most of the 7th Fleet, also houses the world's largest naval supply depot.
Some American officials expressed puzzlement over the future of the bases earlier this week when Marcos, speaking with Philippine reporters, said he would press Washington for an early renegotiation of the treaties covering those bases. Marcos also talked of removing "inequities and irritants," in those accords.
The two countries signed a bases agreement in 1979 that runs until 1991 but comes up for review and possible revision in 1984. Weinberger, after lunch with Marcos, said he had assured the Philippine leader that Washington will start talks early, in the summer of 1983, so that if revision is needed it can be taken care of in 1984.
Weinberger shied away from the term "irritants" but he did say there had been a few "individual episodes" at the bases that will have to be dealt with--such as possible excessive use of force in one or two cases to deal with trespassers--and some issues concerning customs and immigration.
But Weinberger said that on the broader question of renewal of agreements for these vital installations, "we will have a full review and the president seems content with that, and I hope by January 1984 we'll be in full agreement."
Weinberger said there was a realization here and in Japan and in South Korea, which he also visited on this tour, that these bases are very important for the overall defense of Asia, "so we want to review the agreements in a way that is equitable and removes uncertainties."
The defense chief said the Filipinos, like other Asian allies, "are very interested in whether we are going to stay" in the Pacific "and continue to help in the defense of these islands. We are, and one purpose of this visit is to assure them of that."
Weinberger said he sensed that officials here have not forgotten the U.S. pullout from Vietnam and that memories linger of requests made to previous U.S. administrations that either were not honored or not answered.
Without naming what administrations he was talking about, Weinberger said this produced the feeling that the United States was an unreliable ally, and so the Philippines "wanted a visit of this kind" that would give an "unequivocal yes" to the question of a continuing U.S. role in the Pacific.
Under the current five-year bases agreement, the United States provides $100 million annually to the Philippines, half of that in foreign military sales credits and half in economic security assistance. Weinberger said Marcos did not link the aid question and bases review, but the Pentagon chief added, "I'm sure it will be discussed."
Marcos had pushed hard for the 1979 agreement, in which the Philippines gained formal jurisdiction over the bases, although U.S. forces were assured of "unhampered military operations" in specific areas.
In the three years of negotiations leading up to the 1979 agreement, however, the Manila government pushed hard for a $1 billion figure over five years as "rent" for the bases rather than linking the payment to military aid.
Manila eventually settled for the lower figure. But because of high U.S. interest rates, the Philippine military has not been able to use much of the military sales credits, which are loans that have to be paid back, and thus there is speculation here that Manila will press for a larger U.S. aid commitment.