Security and Business: More Filipinos wants American Airbase re-Open in the Philippines

A favorite spot for Filipinos to enjoy the cooler evening air is across from the wharf where U.S. Navy warships such as the USS Emory Land dock. Photograph by: Matthew Fisher/Postmedia News , Postmedia News

In the Philippines, some dream of the U.S. military glory days as nationalist feelings fade

Subic Bay, Philippines — Twenty years almost to the day after the Philippine government kicked out all American military forces from the country, one of the many manifestations of U.S. President Barack Obama's celebrated pivot to Asia could be seen over the weekend in the presence of a giant U.S. Navy submarine tender at this former U.S. Navy base about 100 kilometers west of Manila.

Now that China is vigorously pursuing its claim to almost all of the South China Sea, the USS Emory Land and other American warships are calling regularly again in the Philippines. And the nationalist feelings that triggered the American military's departure from this archipelago have largely been forgotten.

"We cannot fight China. America can. That's why we need them," was how 47-year-old Joe Garcia Jr., who sells souvenirs to U.S. sailors on the harborfront, saw the situation. "The islands China says belong to them are much closer to us. That is why we like President Obama so much. He has recognized our problem and is trying to help us."

Such sentiments are quite different than the ones expressed in the years before the U.S. pullout. Protests, some of them ugly, were an almost daily feature for years outside the U.S. embassy in Manila. I attended one of the last events at Subic Bay in 1992. Security was incredibly tight for a day that had as its centerpiece the spectacular, unexpected breach of U.S. Navy nuclear sub in the middle of the bay.

Although Filipino and regional fears of China are perhaps premature and somewhat exaggerated, there is something to them. The Chinese military has been on an unprecedented spending spree for years. The first fruits of that binge are now becoming evident. Beijing is to publicly unveil its first attack drone — the Wing Loong — at an air show in China on Tuesday. With its grey war paint, bulbous nose and underwing pods for surface-to-ground missiles, the unmanned Chinese aircraft looks a lot like the Reaper and its smaller brother, the Predator, which the United States has used to revolutionize air warfare in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.

The Chinese will reportedly be showing off a mockup of their fifth generation stealth fighter, the J-31, at the same airshow. It looks like a bigger copy of the U.S. F-35 jet that Canada and many of its allies have bought or are considering buying. Both the Wing Loong and the J-31 will have an attack radius that easily puts the Philippines within their range.

Beijing further upped the stakes in the South China Sea last week by launching its first homebuilt deepwater drilling rig. Those activities, as well as the initial sea trials last month of China's first aircraft carrier, are part of Beijing's pursuit of an ambitious strategy that seems designed to control the western end of the Pacific Ocean.

Obama has responded to this and China's dramatic economic boom by announcing plans to have 60 per cent of the U.S. fleet based in the Pacific, an increase of 10 per cent. To achieve that goal, a carrier battle group and several dozen other ships are being shifted from the Atlantic, naval and air bases are being beefed up in Guam, a rotating Marine Corps infantry battalion is being established in northern Australia and a naval logistics base is already operating in Singapore.

Canada is a Pacific nation, too, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper has recently become fond of reminding his countrymen. But his government's only interest so far is in increasing trade with China. There has been no talk whatsoever of even a modest version of Obama's military pivot towards Asia to guard Canada's growing interests there. Unlike the U.S., which is raising its regional military posture while pushing for greater trade, the Royal Canadian Navy maintains a strong Atlantic focus, the Canadian army continues to have more troops in eastern and central Canada than in the West, and the Royal Canadian Air Force uses a base in Ontario as its global hub.

China has objected to Obama's Asian pivot, which some regard as part of a larger policy to try to contain China, but it has received a warm welcome at Subic Bay, where there are dreams of the glory days when the U.S. military provided tens of thousands of jobs here and at a nearby airfield that had been used by the U.S. Air Force.

Gerry Calubhay, who creates personalized wall plaques for Americans sailors, wants more than port visits by warships. He and the other vendors clustered near where the Emory Land was docked want the U.S. military to fully reopen what for decades were its two largest bases overseas.

"Their presence protects us and is good for business," Calubhay said as he chiseled away at a plaque for one of the Emory Land's officers. "We suffered a lot when the Americans left. It would be God's gift if they came back here. We've heard some more ships are coming next week."

The Vancouver Sun (

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