SUBIC BAY FREEPORT: USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6), a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship and flagship of the United States Navy Expeditionary Strike Group Seven, sailed out of Subic Bay on Wednesday ahead of two other warships and six supply ships, signaling an end to this year’s joint military exercises between the Philippines and the United States.
Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD-42) and San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS Green Bay (LPD-20), dry class cargo ship USNS Matthew Perry (T-AKE-9) and fleet replenishment oiler USNS Walter Diehl (T-AO-193) also sailed out of the freeport one after another in the afternoon after the joint marine landing maneuvers Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise (Philblex 33) was cut short ending on Monday instead of the supposed scheduled run until October 12.
The departure of four other supply ships, USNS Fall River (T-EPF-4), USNS Millinocket (T-EPF-3), USNS
Victorious (T-AGOS-19) and the pathfinder class oceanographic survey ship USNS Bowditch, will be announced later, according to the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) seaport department pullout schedule given to The Manila Times.
The joint military exercises involved 500 Filipino soldiers and 1,400 American troops.
Crew of both the USS Bonhomme Richard and the USS Germantown were seen loading military vehicles and other equipment onboard the two ships on Tuesday.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s earlier pronouncement that he will no longer allow future joint military exercises between Filipino and American troops had caused concern here particularly from businesses that benefit from the economic activities generated by the visits of US troops during the staging of the annual joint military exercises.
It was not clear if the shortened joint landing exercises was a result of the President’s statement.
Duterte had lately expressed his desire to chart an independent foreign policy and announced he wants US
troops out of Mindanao.
He was also quoted saying he no longer wants the country to participate in joint patrols in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
A businessman who operates a bar along the Subic Freeport waterfront, who requested not to be named, said it is sad if the joint military exercises between the Philippines and the US are canceled as the economic benefits derived from these are quite substantial.
Olongapo City Mayor Rolen Paulino, a known advocate of US presence in Subic Bay for its economic benefits to city residents, said he will follow and respect the President’s decision.
The Manila Times tried to get a comment from new SBMA Chairman Martin Diño but got no reply as of this writing.