News / Asia

    In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presencei
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    Simone Orendain
    February 04, 2016 11:29 AM
    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Simone Orendain

    In the tiny coastal Philippine town of Bahile in Palawan province, fishermen drop off the night’s catch with the local fish distributor.

    On the one main road that bisects the town, fish sorters load plastic tubs with the catch while children play on the shore during the sunny late morning.  

    But the idyllic scene is set against a back drop of tension and conflict brewing off shore in the South China Sea.

    US troops

    Here and elsewhere in the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more U.S. troop visits are having mixed reactions.

    The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.

    Nicolas Ellis, a local fisherman, has been living here for more than 25 years and he said he likes this quiet life. Besides, he said, tensions between neighboring countries over who claims what in the South China Sea have not touched this small town.

    These small fishing boats carry 2-4 people when they go about a kilometer away to Ulugan Bay, which fronts the South China Sea in Bahile, Palawan province, the Philippines. (Photo: Simone Orendain for VOA)
    These small fishing boats carry 2-4 people when they go about a kilometer away to Ulugan Bay, which fronts the South China Sea in Bahile, Palawan province, the Philippines. (Photo: Simone Orendain for VOA)

    For decades scores of small fishing boats from Bahile have passed a naval station along the way to Ulugan Bay, less than a kilometer away. But in the past year or two, Ellis said, going to Ulugan has been nerve-wracking.

    The Philippines’ two Hamilton-class cutters that were converted into its largest warships patrol the country’s South China Sea shores and dock near a planned outpost in Oyster Bay, inside Ulugan.

    Affects fishermen

    Ellis said it happens about once a month and small boats cannot get near.

    “They should give us a passageway,” he said. “Of course if the ship suddenly shines a light on you, you feel like, ‘Why are you doing this? We are not bad people. We haven’t done anything wrong.’”

    But military activity in the area is expected to increase.

    In the next year, the Philippines is acquiring a third cutter and a research ship, both from the United States.

    And, under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement approved by the Supreme Court last month, more U.S. troops will visit and house equipment at local bases, including the one planned in Oyster Bay.

    The Philippine military has said the United States needs easy access to materiel used during times of disaster, especially in a country battered by an average of 20 typhoons per year.

    The U.S. has talked about the need to be here in broader terms, stating the agreement allows the ability to “provide rapid humanitarian assistance” and supports the Philippines military modernization program.

    Fishing nets are hung outside of houses in this small fishing town along Ulugan Bay, which fronts the South China Sea in Bahile, Palawan province, Philippines. (Photo: Simone Orendain for VOA)
    Fishing nets are hung outside of houses in this small fishing town along Ulugan Bay, which fronts the South China Sea in Bahile, Palawan province, Philippines. (Photo: Simone Orendain for VOA)

    Deterrent to China

    But analysts have said having the U.S. military around also serves as a deterrent to China’s increasing assertion of its claim to practically the entire South China Sea. Apart from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims in the resource-rich sea.  

    In the past two years, China has built up contested outcroppings in the sea turning them into artificial islands.

    And in recent months the United States has carried out freedom of navigation rotations getting within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) of some of the contested outcroppings.

    Subic Bay, about 900 kilometers northeast of Bahile, is also anticipating the additional rotations.

    The fast-growing international port, where a projected 120,000 containers docked in 2015, has seen its use triple in the past three years, and that trend is expected to continue.

    Subic, which once housed a massive U.S. navy base, is still a regular stop for U.S. ships and submarines.

    Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority Chairman Roberto Garcia said those visits can contribute up to $500 million per stop to the local economy.

    Garcia said there is room for the Philippine warships, while Subic Bay airport, which is largely unutilized, will be a staging ground for military jets. He did not specify whether those would be only for Philippine jets or whether American military aircraft would also be using the space there.

    “I could lease it out for large amounts of money, but, well, for me, what’s important is the national security of the country. So I’m willing to forego that,” he said.

    But in Bahile, fishermen like Nicolas Ellis said keeping their quiet life is more important than the money that comes with big ships and more troops.

    A woman and her neighbor chat while she sorts fish in this small fishing town along Ulugan Bay, which fronts the South China Sea, in Bahile, Palawan province, Philippines. (Photo: Simone Orendain for VOA)
    A woman and her neighbor chat while she sorts fish in this small fishing town along Ulugan Bay, which fronts the South China Sea, in Bahile, Palawan province, Philippines. (Photo: Simone Orendain for VOA)

     

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anonymous
    February 04, 2016 5:35 PM
    Since the first Roosevelt administration, the US has owed the Philippines a debt. Since the end of WWII, the Philippines has owed the US. It's not a perfect history, but we've strong ties together.
    The US Defense Department has worked hard to clean up the mess that used to accompany port visits by the Navy, and there is a demarcation line segregating the Subic community from the base. On the ground, Phillipinos want US protection and money. Most are glad to see the return of the Great White Fleet.

    by: Cherry from: Philippines
    February 04, 2016 4:19 PM
    I would like to inform these two Americans who commented on this article earlier to learn to respect my people, the FILIPINOS. Yeah! Our country is poor. Many of us are poor but we are nice, hardworking and humble. We work hard very hard that's why wherever you go in any part of the world, you can an Overseas Filipino Worker. We are poor but we never ask food and money from other nations. We are poor but we never enter any country illegally. We are poor but we are not dumb. We are educated and intelligent people. CHINA bullies us because we are poor and AMERICANS look down on us but we are proud people and we never backdown to anyone.
    In Response

    by: Ian from: Suffolk, VA
    February 05, 2016 11:18 AM
    Every word you wrote is true - except the part about Americans looking down on Filipinos. I particularly liked the phrase "We are educated and intelligent people." No one who has ever worked with a Filipino would argue against that. There is no nation on earth that desires to see The Philippines succeed as a nation more than the USA. Ensuring that China does not infringe on Philippine sovereignty is the goal of US presence in the Philippines - which involves assisting the Philippine defense forces in strengthening their capabilities.

    by: Ralph from: Crown Point IN.
    February 04, 2016 11:59 AM
    We should not be where we are not wanted. If we never left Subic bay would the Chinese be threatening the Phillippines today. If they choose to be a Chinese protectorate we should let them. The only reason they want us there is to charge us base rental fees to stimulate their economy. They should pay us to protect them from the Chinese or at least be greatful

    by: meanbill from: USA
    February 04, 2016 9:17 AM
    The US needs naval bases to rearm and resupply their warships, and rearm and resupply US troops or allies in conflicts in the region, (like South Korea and the little island), just incase they can't use their naval bases in South Korea or the little island of the rising sun? .. And the Philippines needs money? .. Like it or not? .. Beggars can't be choosy?

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