Access Grant For US Bases In The Philippines: Economic Effect

30 years have passed since our lawmakers moved to end the U.S. military presence in the Philippines. The United States previously operated two major bases — namely the Clark Air Base and the Subic Bay Naval Base. However, these bases as a legacy of U.S. colonialism, and many Filipinos wanted to assert their independence. But today, the Philippines is giving access to four new military bases despite the rising tensions with China in the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea.

The United States and the Philippines have agreed to expand the US bases in the Philippines, according to a joint statement from their defense leaders. This development comes as a result of growing concerns over China’s growing assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea and increasing tensions regarding Taiwan’s self-rule.

What is the Basis of the Increased Access to the US Base in the Philippines?

Under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the US will be given access to four more locations in the Philippines, as announced by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III and Philippines’ Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez during a news conference.

The increased access to more bases makes the alliances stronger and more resilient, and will accelerate the modernization of the combined military capabilities of the two countries. Currently, there is around 500 U.S. military personnel in the Philippines.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin described the Philippines’ decision as a “big deal” as he and Galvez reinforced their commitment to strengthening their countries’ alliance. However, this does not mean that the United States will reestablish permanent American bases in the Philippines. During his visit, Austin discussed concrete measures to address destabilizing activities in the waters surrounding the Philippines, including the West Philippine Sea. He also announced that the US would allocate more than $82 million towards infrastructure investments at existing military sites.

Where is the Location of the Four Bases

Where is the Location of the Four Bases?

The location of the additional military bases the U.S military has access to has not been publicly disclosed, but it was discussed previously that the new sites will be in the region of Cagayan across the strait from Taiwan, Palawan, and Zambales.

With the addition of these new locations, the US will now have access to nine military bases in the Philippines through the EDCA. However, the agreement does not allow for a permanent US presence and only grants access to joint training, equipment pre-positioning, and the construction of necessary facilities.

The agreement between the United States and the Philippines arose after last year’s election in the Philippines and helped solidify President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s “radical shift in foreign policy.” Meanwhile, his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte had an anti-U.S. and pro-China stance where he threatened to kick the U.S. military out of the Philippines but took it back as a “concession” for the vaccine donations.

While dozens of protesters rallied outside the military headquarters, calling for the scrapping of the EDCA and opposing the U.S. military presence in the country, Austin met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to assure him of the US’ support.

As mentioned, the relations between the US and the Philippines as a US colony were strained under former President Duterte’s pro-China stance and anti-US rhetoric. However, under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the two countries have improved their relationship, with Marcos reiterating that the future of the Philippines cannot exclude its long-time treaty ally, the U.S.

What does this Increased Access to Military Bases Mean?

If the Philippines grants greater entry to military bases, it could position American armed forces just 200 miles south of Taiwan. The Chinese Communist Party claims Taiwan, a democratic island with a population of 24 million, as part of its own territory, despite never having governed it.

While Chinese leader Xi Jinping has not ruled out military intervention to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s authority, the Biden administration is unwavering in its backing of Taiwan, as guaranteed by the Taiwan Relations Act. This law states that the United States will furnish Taiwan with the ability to safeguard itself, without sending American troops into combat.

What are the Military Implications?

The U.S. is focused on containing China’s expansion and protecting Taiwan. Thus, its increased presence in Asia sends a signal to the regional superpower. According to Kenneth Faulve-Montojo, a Filipino politics expert and senior lecturer at Santa Clara University, with the increased US presence, China needs to be more delicate where it steps as the Chinese and U.S. personnel cannot be involved in a military conflict.

The Philippines is also a strategic area for the United States. Diane A. Desierto, a professor at Notre Dame University, says that the Philippines provides a kind of strike capability that the Okinawa or Thailand bases fail to provide. She also added that the access to the main waterways in the South China Sea is also strategic and makes it flexible for the U.S. troops and enables multiple theaters of engagement in both Northeast and Southeast Asia.

Other commitments followed after the agreement between the United States and the Philippines. For one, the U.S. declared that it will strengthen its alliance with Japan to counter Chinese and North Korean influence. The Philippines will benefit from this deal to further deter Chinese aggression in the region.

What are the Military Implications

Are there Any Reservations About the Increased U.S. Military Presence?

Protesters gathered out of the Philippine military headquarters just after the new agreement was announced to the public. They chanted that the US-Philippines deal puts the Philippines in between two superpowers at odds with each other.

Former member of the House of Representatives Teddy Casiño said that the Filipinos do not need more American troops and facilities in the country. This move will only increase the tensions in the West Philippine Sea and the Taiwan Strait. Deploying additional facilities and troops to the Philippines will drag the country into the conflict between the United States and China.

Experts say that the decision to increase American presence in the Philippines is a double-edged sword for many Filipinos. While it is expected to bring economic benefits, it also raises concerns about potential conflict between the military and locals, which may go unchecked. Faulve-Montojo notes that there have been instances where US servicemen have acted inappropriately and that these incidents, such as rape, are often shielded by the United States. History professor Vicente Rafael from the University of Washington highlights that soldiers have been accused of behaving “above the law” in the countries where they are stationed.

What is the Philippines’ Colonial History with the United States?

The origins of formal US relations with the Philippines date back to 1898, when the Treaty of Paris was signed, marking the end of the Spanish-American War. As part of the agreement, Madrid relinquished control of its colony in the Philippines to the United States. Although the Philippines gained independence on July 4, 1946, after being a US territory for almost half a century, American military forces continued to have a presence in the archipelago nation.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Station, two of the US military’s largest overseas installations, were located in the country and supported the US war effort in Vietnam. However, both bases were transferred to Philippine control in the 1990s, after the 1947 military basing agreement between Washington and Manila had expired.

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