Imee Marcos

Three strikes? Imee criticizes gov’t again, this time over fuel transfer from Honolulu base to Subic

Bea Cupin

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Three strikes? Imee criticizes gov’t again, this time over fuel transfer from Honolulu base to Subic

FAMILY. Senator Imee Marcos answers questions from the Senate media during the Kapihan sa Senado on July 27, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

The transfer of fuel isn’t exactly a secret – US defense media reported on it as early as October 2023

The sister of Malacañang’s chief resident called it a “strike three” – the supposed “inexplicable silence” of the Philippine and United States governments over the transfer of fuel from a storage facility that supplies Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, to Subic, a province where once stood an American military base. 

“Not again! This is strike three in attempting to deprive the Filipino people of the right to know,” said Senator Imee Marcos, “manang” or older sister to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., in a statement on Wednesday, January 10. 

While concerns over transparency on potential deals between the Philippine and United States governments are certainly valid, Senator Marcos’ latest statement is but the latest in her expanding role as critic to the way her ading, or little brother, runs things. 

The “three strikes” she’s referring to include an American request for the Philippines to temporarily host Afghan refugees, including those who worked with the US, as well as “advisory lapses concerning the multiple landings of  C-17 Globemasters of the US Air Force in the country’s domestic and international airports,” she said in the same statement.

Senator Marcos, this time, was bemoaning the shipment of “39 million gallons of fuel of the U.S. Navy from Pearl Harbor to Subic.” The President’s sister said the supposed “silence” of the two countries “only raised suspicions about the pre-positioning of military supplies in the country amid predictions of an eventual war between China and the US over Taiwan.”

“The Mutual Defense Treaty is not a license to leave the Filipino people in the dark…. Subic is not an EDCA site, so where in Philippine territory will millions of gallons of oil be stored?” added Senator Marcos, chair of the Senate foreign relations committee.

EDCA, or the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), is a deal between the US and the Philippines that allows American troops access to select Philippine bases for the prepositioning of assets. As of January 2024, Subic is not an EDCA site. 

But the transfer of millions of gallons of fuel – not just to the Philippines, but also to other facilities, both in the Indo-Pacific and to the United States – has not been a secret. 

US gov’t to private PH companies?

As early as October 2023, Stars and Stripes, an independently-run news site that’s partially funded by the Pentagon, reported the process of “emptying millions of gallons of fuel from the defunct Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Honolulu.” 

The Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility was ordered defueled and permanently closed by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin back in March 2022 following controversies over a leak that contaminated local water wells in 2021. 

Joint Task Force-Red Hill, a body tasked to oversee Red Hill’s shutdown, told Stars and Stripes that the fuel – totalling over 104 million gallons – would be shipped off to “San Diego, Subic Bay in the Philippines, the Port of Singapore and a pair of fuel depots in Hawaii.” 

The US embassy on Thursday, January 11, confirmed the transfer of fuel to Subic and said it was a commercial, and not a military transaction. 

“We can confirm that the Yosemite Trader, a commercial tanker, is currently in the vicinity of Subic Bay, Philippines in order to transfer clean fuel from the U.S. military facility at Red Hill, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to a commercial storage facility at Subic Bay,” said Kanishka Gangopadhyay, US embassy spokesperson. 

He added: “This is one of multiple shipments of safe, clean fuel from the Red Hill facility to other locations in the Pacific.  All arrangements for the transfer and storage of this fuel were made through the proper channels, using established logistics contracts with Philippine commercial entities.” 

In a separate statement following the US embassy’s release, the Philippines’ defense department said they were not involved in the deal, noting that it was “part of regular commercial transactions between the US Government and Philippine companies.” 

Neither the defense department nor the US embassy identified who those commercial entities or companies were.

Under President Marcos, Philippine and US defense ties have only grown warmer. New EDCA sites were announced in early 2023, and the decades-old Mutual Defense Treaty was beefed up with new guidelines. In late 2023 and in early 2024, the West Philippine Sea witnessed joint air and marine patrols by the US and the Philippines. This was preceded by the biggest iteration of Balikatan, a yearly joint exercise between the two allies.  

Beijing-Manila, Marcos to Marcos ties

While this has been a welcome development for Washington DC, Beijing has been anything but amused. In statements, China has criticized the US for supposedly fueling tensions in the West Philippine Sea. 

As Philippine-US ties warm, Sino-Filipino relations have become more tense. Similarly, ties between the Marcos siblings appear to have turned cold, if not lukewarm.

Senator Marcos has been noticeably absent from many of her brother’s engagements as president – unlike other family members, including presidential son, Representative Ferdinand Alexander Marcos, and cousin House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez. Unlike the senator, the two are regulars in events of the President, both in the Philippines and abroad.

The last and only time, thus far, that Senator Imee joined the President overseas? His state visit to Beijing back in January 2023. –  

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.