“As the U.S. begins to implement [the rebalance], Subic will play an important role because it is one of the important facilities that can service its presence in the Pacific.” One would think that this quote is from a US military or government official, but this actually came from the executive director of the Philippine Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement.
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Thirty one years ago, the Philippine Senate, in a historic decision that upheld the country’s sovereignty, voted against the extension of the US-RP Military Bases Agreement, thereby paving the way for the US Armed Forces to vacate its bases in Clark and Subic. But reports reveal that this is about to reversed.
In a report posted on the Diplomat, October 16, with the title “Back to the Future: The U.S. Navy Returns to The Philippines” written by James Hardy, it was stated that military and government officials of the US and the Philippines have confirmed that the former US naval base in Subic, Zambales will play a much larger role in the United States’s Pacific Fleet deployments in the coming months.
The Diplomat is a current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region launched in 2002. It comes out with analysis and commentaries on events occurring in Asia and around the world with coverage on geopolitical trends throughout the Asia-Pacific involving defense and intelligence.
Hardy wrote that the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, which was the site of the former US naval base, would host US ships, marines and aircraft on a semi-permanent basis. He quoted Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) director Edilberto Adan as saying that there are very few ports that can accommodate naval assets and naval carriers, and one of them is Subic.
Adan, Hardy wrote, discussed this while aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault ship.
The USS Bonhomme Richard has its home port at Sasebo, Japan but is currently docked at Subic Freeport in preparation for this year’s Exercise ‘PHIBLEX 2013″‘. The Philblex 2013 is a an amphibious landing drill involving US and Philippine troops. Participating in the drill are 2,800 US Marine Corps (USMC) troops from the III Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF), based in Okinawa. They have with them a USN and Marine air wing which, the Diplomat said, includes McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II aircraft and Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knight medium-lift transport helicopters.
Up until 1991, the Subic Naval Base was one of the largest overseas military installation of the US. It served as a port for US warships, submarines and other military naval vessels. Because of strong protests launched by patriotic people’s organizations demanding the removal of the bases, the Senate voted against renewing the 1946 Military Bases Agreement (MBA), which resulted in the reversion of the Subic Naval Base and other US bases, camps and facilities in the Philippines.
Hardy in his report also wrote how Adan directly deelared how Subic is important to the US military’s plans to focus on the Asia-Pacific region.
“As the U.S. begins to implement [the rebalance], Subic will play an important role because it is one of the important facilities that can service its presence in the Pacific,” Hardy quoted Adan.
In a report published earlier in May in Jane’s Defence Weekly 2012 and written by Michael Cohen and Hardy, it was also said that Philippine officials have described the deployment of more US troops in the country as providing “peace of mind” for Southeast Asia.
The Jane’s Defence Weekly report also stated how President Benigno Aquino III has authorized the rotational deployment of US forces in the Philippines since 2011. It also quoted Adan as saying that while the US will not return to the bases they gave up in 1991, US military forces “will be here regularly and are welcome here.”
Adan was also quoted saying that the resultant increase in joint military exercises had a positive effect on the AFP’s doctrine and equipment.
“Adan also endorsed both governments’ plans to put back in service the Subic Bay International Airport (SBIA), formerly the US Navy’s (USN’s) Cubi Point Naval Air Station (Cubi NAS). Currently operational for general aviation and charter flights, it will also be operated as a military airport. SBIA will likely be used to preposition US logistics assets,” the report said.
In the meantime, the reasons for using Subic was explained in a quote from US Air Force Brigadier General Mark McLeod, US Pacific Command’s (PACOM’s) director of logistics, engineering, and security.
In August 2012, McLeod in a statement said that PACOM was looking for “very low-cost storage capabilities” for equipment and supplies in bulk.
Earlier in April, news came out that a Huntington Ingalls Industries (NYSE:HII) subsidiary has signed an agreement with a subsidiary of Korean shipbuilding giant Hanjin Heavy Industries.
In the agreement, it was declared that the HII subsidiary AMSEC and Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Philippines, Inc. (HHIC-PHIL) will work jointly to provide maintenance, repair and logistics services to the US. Navy and other customers in the western Pacific region using Hanjin’s shipyard in Subic.
Based on reports Amsec has approximately 2,000 employees in 27 locations nationwide and overseas and is a full-service supplier to the navy and commercial maritime industry, providing naval architecture and marine engineering, naval ship systems assessments, maintenance engineering, waterfront maintenance support, acquisition program support, shipyard industrial engineering and C4I installation and support services. The subsidiary company also provides life-cycle integrated logistics services, including technical manual development, provisioning documentation, spare parts management, training development and delivery, and software development.
Overturning the abrogation of the military bases agreement
According to the US embassy, this year’s Phiblex exercise will focus on improving interoperability for humanitarian assistance and disaster response missions. Training will consist of a staff planning exercise, a static aircraft display, multiple field training exercises (FTX), and humanitarian and civic assistance (HCA) projects to include medical, dental, and engineering projects. Most of the activities will be conducted in Zambales, but a humanitarian assistance and disaster response exercise and two HCA projects will be done in Palawan.
The 10-day exercise which began on October 8 is participated in by the III Marine Expeditionary Force, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, and units from all four services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. AFP forces were said to have joined in air raids, artillery training, beach landings, engineering civic action projects, community health engagements, a staff planning exercise, and a final live fire exercise.
All US ships and naval equipment were docked in Subic.
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), for its part, is against the Aquino administration’s plans to refurbish Subic’s military facilities. It said that Aquno’s plans to accommodate the increasing number of US soldiers in the Philippines will “virtually overturn the historic abrogation of the US-RP Military Bases Agreement and bring the country back to the days of US military bases.”
“The US government seeks to retain the Philippines as one of its key military outposts in the Asia Pacific region,” said the CPP. “The US military seeks to gain access to Philippine seaports and airport facilities in order to use them as stations for repair and resupply and provide rest and recreation for its troops.”
The CPP said the Aquino government is directly aiding the US in its aim to maintain its dominant presence and control of key sea routes to ensure the flow of US commodities to the Asia-Pacific market and put pressure on countries to further liberalize their economies.
“By maintaining its military presence, the US also seeks to preempt the growth of potential military adversaries such as China and Japan, even as it still considers them as strategic economic partners.”