In Washington a few weeks back, Enrique Manalo told a Reuters journalist the Philippines and the United States would still discuss what activities would be allowed in the four new military bases where American troops were allowed access.

“There will have to be, as in the case of the other sites, discussions on terms of reference, the type of activities … these all have to be agreed on … It will all depend on how discussions go,” Manalo said.

Washington and Manila did not go beyond identifying the new locations — two in Cagayan, one in Isabela, and another one in Palawan.

Manalo was obviously avoiding a controversial issue when the Reuters journalist asked him if missiles and rockets could be deployed in the new sites under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

He could have stirred up the hornet’s nest if he told the Reuters journalist during a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that the Americans have a lot of leeway under EDCA which was signed on Apri 28, 2014.

Truth is the United States is not allowed to store and preposition nuclear weapons in any EDCA locations in the country. That is clear under EDCA.

It would violate the Constitution and the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone treaty.

However, the Philippines has no capability to detect if munitions and other materiel stored in the EDCA sites are nuclear-capable.

The US has a policy of neither confirming nor denying if its ships and planes are carrying nuclear weapons. However, any nuclear-powered attack submarine that lurks somewhere in the Indo-Pacific area has strategic nuclear missiles.

Are we to believe the Americans that they will remove these strategic weapons every time an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine visits the country?

Virginia-class and Los Angeles-class fast attack submarines have regularly visited Subic after 1992 when they were kicked out from the naval base after 12 senators voted to abrogate the 1947 Military Bases Agreement (MBA) in 1991.

So, why did Manalo tell the Reuters journalist that further discussion will be necessary when EDCA’s terms of reference were clearly established in 2014?

He was skirting the issue because there were domestic concerns about US deployment in the new EDCA sites, which could be a potential magnet for attack in case a conflict erupts in the Taiwan Straits.

China has also protested the US presence in Cagayan and Isabela, which it fears could potentially play a role in case Washington intervenes in Taiwan.

Back home, appearing before the Senate’s foreign relations panel headed by the president’s sister, Imee Marcos, Manalo said the United States would need the Philippines’s permission if it could use EDCA sites to launch offensive military operations to target a third country.

Of course, that is true. Washington will not start a conflict with Beijing. That would preclude an offensive action.

But if the United States would respond to an attack on any of its vessels and planes in the South China Sea and Taiwan Straits, the action could be considered defensive.

The Philippines has an obligation under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) to help the United States. It could support Washington by allowing its local bases to become logistics hubs as well as refueling and repair stations.

It has no capability to send troops, ships, and planes to fight alongside the United States. But the EDCA sites would be a valuable asset for the military operations in the region.

It is also no-brainer that the United States will deploy surface-to-air missiles, shore-to-ship missiles, and other defensive weapons to protect EDCA sites where it had prepositioned planes, ships, and troops, as well as logistics.

Let’s go back to the Reuters journalist’s query. Will the US be allowed offensive weapons in the country?

The United States has been asking allies in the region if they are willing to take deployment of strategic ballistic missiles, rockets, and other armaments to prepare for a possible showdown with its adversaries.

Japan and the Philippines declined.

But there is a gray area under EDCA. Under Section 3 or Article 1, the Philippines allowed the US to conduct security operations exercises, joint and combined training activities, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief activities, and “such other activities as may be agreed upon by the parties.”

The last clause is very broad and general and could be interpreted in many ways, a leeway for the Americans to introduce new elements in the agreement.

Manalo could be right when he said further discussions were needed under the clause and that the Philippines’s permission is needed before other activities could be allowed in the EDCA sites.

However, there is one non-negotiable. The deployment of nuclear weapons is prohibited.

There is no stopping the United States if an Ohio-class ballistic submarine fires one of its 24 strategic missiles somewhere in the depths within the Philippine waters.

The US has 14 Ohio-class ballistic submarines and they could be prowling and lurking somewhere beneath the Pacific and South China Sea.

In addition, the US has nearly 50 Los Angeles-class and Virginia-class fast attack submarines for tactical operations. All US submarines are nuclear-powered.

Manalo is the country’s top diplomat. He could play on words to avoid controversial statements and outwit journalists and legislators with vague, broad and boring statements about bilateral agreements that could have far-reaching and serious implications on the country’s security and interests.

However, Manalo’s assurances did not remove genuine concerns from some sectors about a looming conflict in the region.