US Navy edges back to Subic Bay in Philippines – under new rules

(From Christian Science Monitor)

The US – which was booted from the naval base in 1992 – is being seen in a new light here as China continues to claim large swaths of the South China Sea.

By Ralph Jennings

When this Philippine coastal town rid itself two decades ago of a giant US naval base, it wanted to shake off a colonial past and reject the “ugly Americans.” Yet today the town is once again welcoming American military personnel and viewing the US as a vanguard against an increasingly pushy China.

Aerial view of Subic Bay

Aerial view of Subic Bay

The US Navy began using the base in Subic Bay last year to deliver materiel and personnel for annual joint military exercises. Some 6,000 US personnel came to Subic in April, and are set to return for exercises in 2016 in agreement with Philippine authorities, according to a Western diplomat. US ships are using Subic Bay as a resupply port during routine calls, and two towering merchant marine ships flying American flags were docked here in late October.

On Nov. 17, President Barack Obama is to visit the capital, Manila, as part of a regional economic cooperation event, and he and President Benigno Aquino III are expected to solidify military ties including use of the 60,000-acre Subic facility that the US formally left in 1992.

The return of the Americans follows a deal hammered out with the Philippine military last spring. The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement grew out of concern over China’s spread into waters just off the coast here, and China’s claim over more than 80 percent of the South China Sea that extends far below the Chinese mainland.

US ships moored at Subic Bay during the Cold War

US ships moored at Subic Bay during the Cold War

In Olangapo today, a city of 220,000, enthusiasm is strong for a US return. That’s due not only to the perceived China threat, but also because the Philippine armed forces, not the Pentagon, will govern the sprawling old base with new rules designed to curb off duty behavior.

After World War II, Subic gained prominence as the largest US naval facility in the Pacific, cherished for its deep water, sheltered spots to anchor ships, and elaborate repair infrastructure.

Yet during the heyday of Subic, US naval personnel gained notoriety for helping turn the area into a zone of hostess bars and prostitution that fostered local crime.

Now, the returning military must stay on approved parts of the base, which has added a well-groomed Harbor Point shopping mall with cinemas and some 200 stores including Starbucks, TGI Friday’s, and eventually Gold’s Gym. A midnight to 5 a.m. curfew will be enforced around the base.

To short-circuit charges of a new form of colonialism, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, a local governing body, is authorizing Philippine forces to oversee the former base and its returning inhabitants in segments of 15 years. Read more



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