U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Dobling, left, commander of Underwater Construction Team 2, gives a coin to a Philippine navy sailor at Naval Base Camilo Osias, Santa Ana, Cagayan, Philippines, May 11, 2018.

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Dobling, left, commander of Underwater Construction Team 2, gives a coin to a Philippine navy sailor at Naval Base Camilo Osias, Santa Ana, Cagayan, Philippines, May 11, 2018. (Kryzentia Richards/U.S. Navy)

American troops are already acquainted with the four bases identified Monday by the Philippines government as sites where rotational U.S. forces may be stationed indefinitely.

The office of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. added the bases to a list of five previously identified under a 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the longtime treaty allies.

The new sites are a Philippine navy base in Santa Ana and an international airport in Lal-lo, both in northern Cagayan province, a military camp in northern Isabela province and a navy base on Balabac island in the western province of Palawan.

The bases are positioning and staging areas near potential trouble spots in the South China Sea and Taiwan, according to Ian Chong, an associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore.

“They allow U.S. faster reaction times in an emergency and improve the U.S. ability to support the Philippines,” he said in an email Tuesday. “The U.S. military is also better able to disperse resources around the region away from larger bases that could become targets in a conflict.”

Those bases could still be targeted by an adversary, but their locations reduce the risk of key resources and basing areas being taken offline in one concentrated attack, Chong said.

The announcement comes as more than 17,600 Filipino and U.S. service members prepare to launch Balikatan 23, an annual bilateral exercise in the islands April 11-28.

The 5,400 Filipinos and 12,200 Americans will train in maritime security, amphibious operations, live-fire, urban and aviation operations, cyber defense, counterterrorism and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief across the Philippines, according to a Balikatan 23 statement Tuesday.

American troops have trained at or near all of the new shared-use sites during previous drills.

For example, U.S. and Philippine military underwater construction teams worked together at Naval Base Camilo Osias in Cagayan in May 2018, the Marine Corps announced that month.

Navy divers from both nations inspected a pier and removed wooden piles that were a hazard to vessels around the naval base, according to a news release.

A DOD photo shows U.S. Marines carrying equipment for a combat operations center at the naval base on March 27, 2022. Another photo shows Philippine troops boarding a Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey aircraft there on Oct. 2.

Marine Corps photos from September and October 2016 show civil affairs Marines meeting local officials and playing basketball in Lal-lo.

The agreement for shared use of the bases in Cagayan comes over objections by Gov. Manuel Mamba, who said an expanded U.S. military presence in his province could expose it to nuclear attack, the Manila Standard reported on Feb. 11.

“Any foreign forces are not welcome here,” he said, according to the newspaper.

At Camp Melchor F. Dela Cruz in April and May 2018, soldiers from the Hawaii National Guard and 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division and airmen from the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron appeared in DOD photos playing basketball, honing medical skills and rappelling with Filipino soldiers.

A pair of U.S. warships, the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam and the guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins, transited the Balabac Strait on July 12 and Sept. 5, according to DOD photographs and accompanying information.

The 31-mile-wide strait between the Philippines and Malaysia is one of several that connect the South China and Sulu seas.

author picture
Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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