The Warming US-Philippine Alliance
There are signs that the bilateral US-Philippine military relationship may be rejuvenated following years of stagnation, after a series of high-level meetings between American and Filipino representatives.
Defence Connect. 12 December 2022.
The relationship soured over recent years, prompting concerns in the West that the Philippines may abandon the US alliance system.
Designated by the US as a major non-NATO ally, a title shared by a select cadre of US allies including Australia and Japan, the relationship chilled over recent years following improved relations between the Duterte-led Filipino government and China.
In 2019, the Chinese government lauded the increasingly cordial relationship between China and the Philippines, noting that: “Xi Jinping pointed out that China-Philippines relations have achieved the ‘trilogy’ of turnaround, consolidation and elevation over the past three years, and entered a new stage of development.” The warming relations between the Philippines and Chinese governments came shortly following a war of words between former President Rodrigo Duterte and Washington, with President Duterte calling President Barack Obama the “son of a whore”.
Michael Beltran, writing in the Lowy Institute’s The Interpreter this week detailed how the incoming government of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr and Washington have sought to rebuild bilateral relation.
In November, Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines to reassert the US’ continued support for the country. “In front of the gathered navy and fisherfolk, she reaffirmed the unwavering support of the United States in the face of Beijing’s ‘intimidation’ and ‘coercion’ in the territorial row,” Beltran wrote.
“The White House touted the ‘ironclad’ relationship between the two countries as exhibited by the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which allows American troops to operate in a number of Philippine military facilities.”
According to Beltran, the US increased their expenditure on the EDCA and sent three core signals to the region. “First, it was a direct statement to China by the Biden administration about maritime territories – arguably the most direct, alongside frequent US Navy operations within the South China Sea,” he continued.
“Second, it allowed Harris to splash the cash to back up a range of US promises. And third, with Marcos new to the role, it reminded the Philippines of US dominance in shaping the region’s geopolitical narrative.”
The Vice President’s visit comes as the new Philippine government has sought to re-pivot its defence strategy following years of hedging under former President Duterte.
In October, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III and Senior Undersecretary Jose Faustino Jr, officer in charge of the Philippine Department of National Defense, met in Hawaii to oversee joint military planning between both countries.
According to media reports, it is expected that the United States and the Philippines will increase their number of joint military exercises to 500.
At the meeting, Faustino explicitly reiterated the country’s ongoing commitment to the US alliance system.
“Our two countries are working together to reach a common understanding of the importance of our defence alliances and what it means to recognise each other as equal partners in advancing our respective countries’ interests and in promoting peace and prosperity in the region,” Faustino said.
Not only did the meeting highlight their ongoing commitment to the alliance, but also paved a course for deeper military relationships between the two nations.
“Our meeting highlighted the importance of the bilateral defense relations between the Philippines and the US, and we were able to discuss forward-looking, practical and valuable ways on how to empower our partnership through improving defence cooperation across various lines of efforts,” he continued.
“As well as increasing interoperability and information sharing between our two-armed forces with the end view of further enhancing the credibility of our alliance.”
Not only are the two nations now expected to increase the number of military exercises, but their scale too.
According to media reports, the annual Balikatan wargames will surge to include some 16,000 US personnel. The last Balikatan exercise was held in April this year, with some 9,000 military representatives from the United States and Armed Forces of the Philippines taking part in the wargame.