It seems that the United States never left the Philippines after they vacated Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Base in 1991. With the combination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) and the newly signed Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), US military and political presence is now as firm as it was during the heyday of the old bases here in the country. Let us see how this new equation plays out in the US military presence in our country.

The United States remains entrenched in Philippine affairs; they command access through our island’s seas; retains more than several hundreds of troops on the ground and continues to enjoy privileged status as “visiting” forces and as our “long time friends.” They also conduct regular war games with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and provide intelligence and training in operations. They also conduct various humanitarian and socio-civic military operations throughout the archipelago much like the AFP does.

The physical presence of military bases are but one aspect of the US’ extent of control over Philippine political, economic and military affairs; the rest have been manifested through unequal treaties, agreements and laws implemented to support the US’ “special relationship” with the country.

The US signed the US-RP Military Bases Agreement with the Philippine government on March 14, 1947 and established 23 bases and military facilities in the country. These included Clark Air Base, which covers 26,000 hectares in Central Luzon, and Subic Naval Base, which encompasses more than 60,000 hectares and a port deep enough to hold large warships. These bases have remained under US management until 1991, when the Military Bases Agreement expired and the Philippine Senate responded to widespread calls by most sectors of society to reject the proposal to renew it.

In 1999, the Philippines entered into a bilateral agreement with the US that allows US military forces to conduct joint exercises and other military activities within the Philippines. The Visiting Forces Agreement gave the U.S. military and civilian personnel unhampered access to Philippine territory, including the enjoyment of special rights and privileges.

The VFA was part of the US restructuring of its overseas troop structure into main operating bases, forward operating locations and cooperative security locations or CSLs. CSLs are facilities occupied only for training, exercises and other military interactions with regional partners. Examples of these locations are those where joint Balikatan exercises in the Philippines and Cobra Gold in Thailand are usually held.

Main operating bases (MOB) are US bases with permanently stationed forces and families. Forward operating bases or locations (FOB/FOL) are bases with pre-positioned equipment and a small military support group. These are the same type of bases that are covered by the EDCA where it would be the Philippines that would build or refurbish military structures that US troops can use for free.

Access agreements such as Mutual Logistics Support Agreements (MLSA) or Acquisition Cross-Servicing Agreements (ACSA) makes available the use of host nation resources to support the day-to-day and future operational requirements of the US. It also provides support for joint training and exercises, “constabulary” operations, humanitarian and disaster relief operations. These provide the US access to basing and infrastructure necessary for its force projection without the need for permanent presence.

Pres. Obama said “we will focus on a broader range of challenges and opportunities, including the security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific” in their paper entitled “Sustaining US Global Leadership, Priorities for 21st Century Defense.” He seeks to “rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region” to counter developments along the Western Pacific and East Asia to the Indian Ocean region and South Asia.

Viewed from these pronouncements, the increased troop “deployments” to the Philippines in the guise of training exercises, civil military operations and disaster response would be a logical development. The presence of US military forces in the West Philippine Sea (or South China Sea) creates additional friction, which in turn is used by the Philippine government as an excuse to allow longer US presence in the country and its seas. The Spratly Islands dispute and the “threat” of China is used to justify US aggression in the region.

The US has achieved through the VFA, the MLSA and the EDCA their permanent presence in the country without formal military bases. Any time of the year, the US has troops deployed in the country. It has also achieved flexibility since it can use any Philippine facility as allowed under the VFA. It need not maintain large base structures, it only needs to contract out its base operations to the Philippine armed forces.

We as a nation should stand firm in asserting our national sovereignty and independence against the threats from China, Japan and more importantly, the United States. We should start by scrapping all of these one-sided treaties and agreements and find ways to peacefully resolve claims on the Spratly Islands, the West Philippine Sea and maintain genuine peace in the region.


Please follow our commenting guidelines.


  1. US is there to help when any nation is being threatened by terrorist, calamities or any aggression , EDCA as I understand is created to help and protect Phil from any aggression, and bullying by other countries like China, but not encroaching on our sovereignty and we should be thankful.

  2. PeteGabriel on

    That is all so ideal and very nationalistic, but the reality of the our situation is that we are a third world country with so many wise and intelligent leaders, that can debate us to death what is good for our country. Fact, we do not stand a chance against a Chinese invasion. Fact, we do not have a credible Armed Forces to stand up against a Chinese aggression. Fact, we need US, Japan and even Australia to help us stand up against the bullying of China. Fact, we do not have the money or the resources to go up against anybody. Fact, the Chinese have spies strategically in place throughout the Philippines, and they have the electronic capability to monitor cell phone usage in the Philippines. We are really screwed, my friend, and that is a fact!

    • Fact: Obama refused to categorically state that the US will defend us from China, and categorically stated that they supported the ‘peaceful’ rise of their ‘critical partner’, China.

      Also a Fact: US bases and troops have only served to inflame Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea. It has also brought a number of environmental threats such as unmonitored nuclear armaments, maritime disasters, and dumping of toxic and hazardous wastes.

      We are completely worse off with the VFA + MLSA + EDCA trifecta, and that is a fact as well!

    • The notion that EDCA is inflamming Chinese aggression is cognitively dissonant against the facts. China’s creeping invasion and measured aggression against Philippine territories in the WPS happened over a period of years soon after the dismantling of the US bases and the power vacuum created in its aftermath.
      Fortunately, the smaller countries in the region are quietly builiding up their defenses and enhancing US military relations to leverage against Chinese ambitions of regional hegemony. The Philippines is not unique in this sense.

  3. Bruce Catlin on

    re: “We as a nation should stand firm in asserting our national sovereignty and independence against the threats from China, Japan and more importantly, the United States. We should start by scrapping all of these one-sided treaties and agreements and find ways to peacefully resolve claims on the Spratly Islands, the West Philippine Sea and maintain genuine peace in the region.”

    It sounds like Mr. Tapang is asserting the greatest threat to the Philippines eminates from the U.S., and not from China. Could one be more blind to reality? Additionally, Mr. Tapang’s world view extrapolates into surrender (to China) is not defeat and will lead to peace; is dangerously naive and shows an utter lack of historical perspective and an understanding of the human condition. I guess it goes to show you what a Ph.D. is worth these days. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

  4. I believe that the writer has maginified the negative impact regarding the VFA and the new EDSA agreement to much too high of a degree of criticism.
    First, nobody from the US is interested in any imposition of the filipino’s cultural, political (corrupt as it is), geographical, social, or economical way of life-at least in a negative way. The critical view of the US threatening your sovereignty borders on paranoia as I see it. The writer conveniently waters down the positive aspects of the VFA-that being logistical and training support, more effective help during natural disasters (calamities as you call them), residual job creation in affected areas, and a deterrent to a country you see as less of a threat than China(???).
    Now, if this agreement seems one sided, take a long look at who has helped who and come out on top regarding financial and military aid. It’s obvious. History dispells this writer’s claim categorically. Good Day.

  5. You say, “We as a nation should stand firm in asserting our national sovereignty and independence against the threats from China, Japan and more importantly, the United States.”

    Without hard power, exactly how do you propose to deter aggression and peaceably resolve claims on the Spratly Islands? Bilateral talks with China which insists on unchallenged sovereignty over the area? You cry sovereignty while the stronger powers such as Japan, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan are hedging their bets against China by hosting US forces at their own expense. Korea recently decided to extend their agreement with the US whereby US retains command over BOTH US and Korean forces if war breaks. The Philippines has nothing, not even a minimum credible level of deterrence. Even Vietnam, America’s most bitter enemy previously, is expanding Cam Ranh Bay to accomodate American supercarriers. We are a prideful lot but it’s all misplaced in this context until we are actually ready to defend ourselves alone.

  6. You’re right Mr. Tapang! However even with your PhD degree, you have missed one very important issue here…China. We are bullied by Chinese and illegally taken Spratley Islands and put a nine dash lines on all their citizens passports and lastly building more aircraft carriers, submarines, fighter jets, etc..What are these for? Display? Nope.. they’re meant to go to war to any country who would oppose them.
    Please name a country which is not align to another country..I bet you.. there is none.
    Even Israel, Singapore and Taiwan has an ally. As George Bush say, it’s either you’re with us or against us? Please face reality!