The US and the Philippines have restarted work to build facilities for US troops in the Southeast Asian country. Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said Thursday that Manila plans to work on the project “rather quickly.”
Under a 2014 military pact, the Philippines authorized five facilities for US forces to be built at five military bases. The Philippines’ constitution forbids permanent US bases, but the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement allows the US to operate facilities at Philippine bases and stockpile equipment.
The work was stalled for a few years over the uncertainties around a future US military presence in the country. Last year, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he was going to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which outlines rules for US troops to be stationed in the Philippines on a rotational basis. But Duterte delayed the decision and officially reversed the move in July.
Countering China is now the Pentagon’s top priority, so expanding a military presence in the Philippines serves this purpose. The US and the Philippines also share a Mutual Defense Treaty, which Washington has warned China is applicable to the South China Sea, where Manila and Beijing have overlapping claims, and the US frequently sails warships.
With the US focused on the region, the Philippines is in a good position to get more aid out of Washington. Earlier this month, Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana questioned the US commitment to the Philippines, pointing to other countries that receive more assistance from Washington.
“Non-treaty allies … have been receiving billion-dollar military aid and advanced weapons systems from the US. Perhaps, a longtime ally like the Philippines, facing major adversaries in Asia, deserves as much, if not more, assistance and commitment,” Lorenzana said.