US to expand military presence in Philippines

After a two-decade absence, the United States is poised to resume partial administration over five military bases in the Philippines.

Five air bases:  Antonio Bautista Air Base, Basa Air Base, Fort Magsaysay, Lumbia Air Base, and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base, all located within the Philippine archipelago are to host U.S. personnel and military aircraft.

Under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement negotiated with the Philippine government late last week, U.S. personnel will begin assuming their role later this year.

Although not tacitly stated, the re-introduction of U.S. personnel and military equipment is largely believed to be in response to and done at the request of the Philippine government to counter the Chinese military buildup in the Spratly Island chain.

Antonio Bautista Air Base, located on Palawan Island, lie just fifty miles from the disputed Spratly Island group, now occupied by the Chinese government.

The United States denied the pact with the Philippine government amounted to a re-militarization of the islands with American forces.

“It’s not about selling it to the Chinese or to anybody. It’s about meeting our security commitments in a serious alliance with the Philippines. That’s what this is about,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby during a press briefing.

Addressing Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying stated:

“The U.S. has talked about militarization in the South China Sea. But can it explain whether its own increased military deployment in the region is equivalent to militarization?”

The United States maintained two large military instillations in the Philippines for close to a century. One garrison, the U.S. naval facility at Subic Bay, was abandoned in 1991 when the Philippine senate rejected a ten-year lease extension on American control of the base.

The other station, Clark Air Base, was declared a total loss after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, and was turned over to the Philippine government.

The U.S. has maintained a small military presence in the Philippines, largely Special Operations forces to assist Manila in combating Islamic extremists battling the government.

 

[Washington Post] [The Diplomat] [Photo courtesy philstar.com]