US military presence in the Philippines escalates
American military presence and operations—under the guise of joint military exercises, port calls, visits and other activities—are escalating in the Philippines. Last March, at least 9,000 American troops were simultaneously on Philippine soil.
This April 2 to 12, the US is launching the 35th Balikatan in South and Central Luzon. This is being directly managed by the Operation Pacific Eagle-Philippines and is participated by 3,500 American soldiers and 4,000 Filipino soldiers. American participants have been coming to the country since March 17. This almost coincided with the 15th Pacific Partnership conducted from March 10-24 in Eastern Visayas which was participated by 1,600 American soldiers. This was on top of the Exercise Salaknib conducted in Nueva Ecija from March 4 to 14. The said training exercises are part of the 280 military activities the US is set to launch in the country this year.
Alongside these trainings is the docking of the USS Blue Ridge, the US Navy’s commanding ship, in Manila Bay on March 14. The ship, which contains 3,000 American soldiers, is considered a military base at sea.
In addition to this, the US has opened Philippine territory to other foreign armies using the previously bilateral Balikatan. Australian soldiers have participated in this exercise since 2012. The US also included armies from Japan, South Korea, East Timor, Brunei, Thailand, Singapore, and United Kingdom in the guise of “observing.” Balikatan is particularly important to the US since only five countries in the Pacific, the US’ widest military region, currently allow presence of American troops. Particular to the AFP, the newly organized and US-funded 1st Brigade Combat Team supposedly under the local Special Operations Command, participated in the Balikatan.
As in the past, the US is using these trainings to launch various military operations. It uses humanitarian work such as school constructions, medical missions, education and literacy and others to justify the entry of foreign troops into farflung barrios in various parts of the country. This year, they supposedly constructed school buildings in Batangas and Leyte.
This all came to pass after Michael Pompeo, US Department of State secretary, visited the Philippines last February 28. Pompeo dropped by the country to answer the fuss Duterte and his officials created to “review” the Mutual Defense Treaty, the military treaty which allows US troops in the country. Duterte supposedly wanted the new treaty to include Philippine sovereign territories in the South China Sea.
In truth, Duterte and his officials only created the clamor to allow the US to increase the military aid and materiél it is dumping in the country. In particular, Duterte is running after the sale of thousands of high-powered rifles which the US Senate blocked due to the regime’s bloody drug war.