It seems as though it were yesterday that the Filipino government refused to renew a basing agreement with the US. Actually it was 20 years ago when America abandoned Clark Air Force base and Subic Bay naval base, hang ons from US colonial occupation of the Philippines and the Cold War in Asia.
The evacuation of bases did not signify abandonment of military consultation and cooperation, only at a diminished degree.
China’s claims to the South China Sea, with its rich oil and gas deposits, infringes on Filipino claims to a portion of the Sea which falls in its territorial waters. For an poor country like the Philippines revenue from oil and gas would go a long way in lightening the heavy economic baggage it carries.
Beijing has bold as brass pushed its claims to territorial waters that Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines lay claim. To make the point clear, China has not only uses threats but sent its naval into the SCS to stress its determination to have its way either through intimidation or brief naval encounters, as it has done with Vietnam.
The US has not stood idly by as China’s star has risen higher and higher in the Asian firmament challenging America’s hegemony in the Asia Pacific theatre.
Already the Bush administration had given Manila strong words of support. But it is the Obama White House that has come designed at forward military dogma for the Asia Pacific area, with a single goal in mind: thwart and tame China’s territorial ambitions.
As such, the Filipino government has been willing to hold joint combat drills at oil rigs in Filipino waters in the SCS as well as undisclosed sensitive areas. The return of open military presence in the Philippines has injected new blood into a ‘keep America out’ movement which is always close to the surface in that country’s history.
Here, it is useful to recall that the US has been active in Manila’s fight against the Moro insurgents in Mindanao as well as in the long war against the Communist New People’s Army in the Visayas.
Consequently the Philippines has a role to play in Obama’s forward military and political policy in Asia. And the stakes are high since it involves oil and gas hidden riches in the SCS.