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PACOM CO Harris: No Anticipated Changes to U.S.-Philippines Military Relationship

U.S. Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris on Feb. 25, 2016 addressing reporters in the Pentagon. DoD News Image

U.S. Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris on Feb. 25, 2016 addressing reporters in the Pentagon. DoD News Image

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The head of U.S. forces in the Pacific has not received any official word from Manila to change its defense relationship with the Philippines – despite months of statements to the contrary from firebrand President Rodrigo Duterte.

Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said even after Duterte used language like the Philippines was “breaking up with America” there were still no substantive changes to extensive bilateral defense agreements between the two countries.

Starting in late September, Duterte began a weeks-long rhetorical storm in which he said his government would cancel future exercises with the U.S. and then continued to hint since he would cancel or renegotiate existing defense agreements.

“What I’ve seen is some statements that are, I’ll be frank, are concerning to us, to me, coming from the new president in the Philippines,” Harris said on Tuesday at the Defense One event.
“But despite what he has said, there has been no change in anything with the Philippines… I have no reason to believe that will change.”

In 2014
, Manila and Washington signed an extensive Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that allowed for U.S. use of five military bases on the island nation. In particular, the U.S. has launched maritime air patrols from the former Clark U.S. Air Force Base in the country that – in part – are designed to keep an eye on China’s operations in the South China Sea. Closer military ties with the U.S. were part of the previous president Benigno S. Aquino III’s strategy to hedge against China’s expansion in the region. The U.S. also has an ongoing special operations mission in the southern part of the country as part of an assistance operation against Islamic extremists.

Former Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III converses with then Davao City Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in 2013.

Former Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III converses with then Davao City Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in 2013.

“EDCA is on track. Our exercise program, so far, remains on track. We haven’t been asked to remove U.S. forces from the Philippines, including special operations forces operating in Mindano,” Harris said.
“We haven’t been asked to not put our P-3s and P-8s in Clark to do surveillance there.”

In addition, the U.S. is investing millions into a maritime awareness capability to allow the much less capable Philippine military a better understanding of their territory.

Harris is set to travel to the country next week to talk through the next round of bilateral training.

“I would expect a refocusing or rescoping of some of the big exercises in 2017,” he said.
“I’ll know more on Tuesday.”

U.S. Marines with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion and Philippine Marines with 64th Force Reconnaissance Company provide security during an amphibious raid at Ternate, Philippines, as a part of Amphibious Landing Exercise 2015. US Marine Corps photo.

U.S. Marines with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion and Philippine Marines with 64th Force Reconnaissance Company provide security during an amphibious raid at Ternate, Philippines, as a part of Amphibious Landing Exercise 2015. US Marine Corps Photo

Beyond the Philippines, Harris offered reassurances to regional allies that the U.S. would remain focused on the Western Pacific when the Trump administration took charge in January.

“The Indo-Asia-Pacific is as important to America as it ever has been. America is a Pacific nation and Pacific power,” he said.
“I continue to serve President Obama until January 20th at which point I will serve President Trump… I have no doubt we’ll continue our steadfast commitment to our allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.”

On the campaign trail, President-elect Donald Trump called into question the bilateral defense agreement the U.S. had with Japan and over simplified Japan’s obligation to defend U.S. assets in the event of an attack. (Japan and the U.S. amended their defense cooperation guidelines in 2015 to allow for Japanese Self Defense Force assets to defend American forces under attack, “as appropriate.”) Trump has also complained of the expense of maintaining U.S. bases overseas.

Since the election, a source familiar with Trump’s national security direction told USNI News last week the new administration is committed to the Western Pacific and will continue a military rebalance to the Pacific “with teeth,” in part with an expanded U.S. Navy — a key plank in Trump’s stated national security policy. Additionally, the source said a Trump administration might ask to renegotiate the terms of foreign U.S. military bases to have the host countries potentially pay more for upkeep but isn’t interested in pulling out of Japan or South Korea.
An important indicator of the Trump team’s path forward in the region will be tied to the outcome of a Thursday meeting between the president-elect and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in New York.

America’s alliance with Japan is the “linchpin of our national security, diplomacy and economy,” Abe told the National Diet on Monday ahead of the trip to New York, according to The Japan Times.
“We will go real deep in talking about these issues and I will build a relationship of mutual trust with him.”

 

 

  • Secundius

    If the Philippine Constitution is patterned after the US Constitution, the Predident Duterte is going to be Just As “Hamstrung” as Our President…

    • Donald Carey

      Duterte is about as much concerned with what the Philippine constitution says as Obama is with what ours says.

      • Secundius

        Or WHAT “Donald Trump” THINKS IT Says…

        • Donald Carey

          Troll on my friend, troll on.

          • Secundius

            You’re making the assumption that the President of the United States has Unlimited Unfettered Powers, HE Doesn’t. If HE Did Richard Nixon Children would be Running the Country as a Constitutional Monarchy…

          • Donald Carey

            Or LBJ’s – tell me something I don’t know.

  • Terry

    Duterte talks bout being fair with visas for Filipinos going to the US making it easier to be fair.
    Facts;
    There are over 14.5 million Mexicans illegally in the US, 75% of them are on the welfare system getting assistance having children without paying hospital bills and of them 75% 60 % are working under the table not paying taxes while Americans paying taxes are forking their hard earned money taking care of these low life’s.
    My wife (Filipina) has been here in the US for 6 years now paying thousands of dollars to get her here and become a US citizen Legally. We now know of 7 Filipinos that have overstayed their visas and will not leave because they can work here in the US under the table because their are no jobs for them back in the Philippines.

    Filipinos that do come here legally can obtain a job, Americans are not allowed to obtain a job and work in the Philippines.
    Filipinos can purchase as many properties and houses as they wish in the US, Americans can not own property in the Philippines even if they are married to a Filipino if the Filipino citizen was to die the American has a limited time to sell the house and property of their loved one or it will be forfeited and Filipinos know this so the offer way under market value and take advantage of the American even though they have children that are Filipino citizens.
    So Duterte where is the fairness in that? Learn the facts before discriminating against others.
    I can only hope if the Philippines starts requiring visas from US citizens who give so much of their hard earned money to the Philippines, Trump will kindly in return charge fees to overseas workers in the US or remove them (fair is fair). How would Filipinos feel about their taxes being sent to the US as aid and relief?
    The answer to Americas illegal aliens is frankly remove all and their US born children ( sorry it’s your fault illegal alien) and place a law in the US if you hire and pay under the table you will forfeit your house and or business,simple as that I just fixed the problem now go with it.

    • Jay

      Definitely what America needs is more hate and ignorance — just like the Philippines. Illegals are not eligible for public assistance in the US and of course, no system is perfect and I am sure there are a few who manage to collect something but your “facts” are totally bogus and fall right into the hateful ignorance pushed by Fox News, Trump and Republicans that your personal problems and failures are the fault of all the “others”. The Constitution states that anyone born on US soil is an American citizen — if you don’t like it, advocate for a Constitutional Amendment. DoDirty is just a brown, less educated, more ignorant and more criminal and violent version of Trump. Life and the world is unfair, deal with it. Your advocacy of policies based on an eye for an eye will make everyone blind.

      • Marcd30319

        Better cash that Soros check before it bounces. BTW – are you a dues-paying member of the United States Naval Institute or just some free-loading troll. Inquiring minds want to know.

      • Terry

        I know the facts (illegal immigrant households primarily benefit from food programs and Medicaid through their U.S.-born children. Low levels of education — not legal status — is the main reason immigrant welfare use is high.)
        Further it’s gonna hurt but it has to be fixed.

      • Terry

        Further you may have personal problems and be a failure but I have none and am not, I own two houses in two different countries a business owner and retired 14 years early.

  • Secundius

    Go ahead your going to Redact Me Anyway, USNI News…

  • robin

    This are not Philippine special forces the uniforms is suggest its from regular marines unit.. not from Philippine Army scout ranger and Philippine NAVSOG (navy seal equivalent)

  • Western

    With a new administration, hopefully this is the last time I see an active duty flag officer talking to the press. Not your job dude.