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U.S. And Philippine Militaries Will Increase Security Cooperation in 2019

Admiral Philip Davidson, Commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (Indo-PACOM), and General Carlito Galvez, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines signed agreements on security cooperation activities for 2019 at this year’s Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board. U.S. embassy photo.

U.S. and Philippine military leaders pledged increased cooperation and collaboration in 2019 despite past anti-American rhetoric from the Pacific nation’s president and his stated desire to foster closer ties with China.

When the 2018 Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) was signed late last week by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command commander Adm. Phil Davidson and Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Gen. Carlito Galvez, the ceremony celebrated continuing cooperation dating back to the end of World War II.

The event also sent an unsubtle hint to China that the U.S.-Philippine military alliance still exists, Greg Poling, the director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, told USNI News.

“It does send the message everything is on an even keel, the alliance remains strong,” Poling said. “The big concern has been what does the election of Rodrigo Duterte as president of the Philippines mean to the alliance. He’s unabashedly anti-American, unabashedly pro-Chinese.”

After his 2016 election, Duterte’s first trip was to China. He also threatened to prohibit the Philippine military from taking part in large-scale military exercises with the U.S., Poling said. But since then, Philippine military and civilian officials appear to have impressed the importance of military exercises, exchanges, and cooperation with the U.S. to combat terrorism and provide disaster relief, Poling said.

As part of the MDB-SEB, the U.S. and the Philippines agreed to conduct 281 security cooperation activities in 2019, according to a statement from INDO-PACOM. That figure is about 20 more than what will be held this year. It’s hard to say what this increase means, Poling said, since these activities include everything from major large-scale exercises to small training opportunities and meetings between mid-level government officials.

The MDB started in 1958, and the SEB in 2006. Both boards are used to coordinate defense and security cooperation between the militaries of both nations, according to the INDO-PACOM release.

However, the scope of the U.S./Philippine partnership has expanded beyond basic security cooperation. The recent Balikatan exercise focused on disaster relief. And earlier this year the Philippine military was able to retake control of Marawi with assistance from U.S. special forces, Poling said. Marawi, a city in the southern Philippines, had for nearly half a year been under siege by fighters aligned with the Islamic State.

Admiral Philip Davidson, Commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (Indo-PACOM), and Gen. Carlito Galvez, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines receive honors at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, Philippines. US Embassy photo.

At the same time, even as Duterte has publicly stated his preference to align with China, Poling said many in the Philippines and the region remained wary of China’s threatening and bullying actions to assert control over shipping lanes and fishing rights in the South China Sea.

The military alliance between the U.S. and Philippines was never really in danger, Poling said. But the public ceremony renewing the annual military agreements does let everyone know cooperation between the two nations continues.

“To Beijing, it’s sending the message: however close you might be to the current populist president of the Philippines, you haven’t really undercut the foundation of the alliance, which was there before Duterte and will be there after Duterte,” Poling said.

  • Secundius

    Ahhh huhhh, “Alliances”!/? ( http : // maxdefense . blogspot . com / 2018 / 08 / russian – improved – kilo – class – submarines . html ). “ALLIANCES”…

  • muzzleloader

    With a head case like Durterte running the country, I feel like this agreement is not worth the paper it is written on, IMHO.

    • jtns

      duterte a head case? well liked & effective in his context, this ex sfs officer talked with him at length before anyone bothered from the u.s. embassy. the real head cases are: ex u.s. amb goldberg who should have shut his p.c. mouth; ex pres obama who walked away from the philippines in the south china sea dispute; and, with ex secstates clinton and kerry, put nothing into their stillborn asian pivot. it’s way past time for the u.s. foreign policy establishment to stop congratulating itself and truly appreciate how low our prestige has fallen.

  • CBCalif

    Americans always miss the strategic truth.
    The Philipinne government will say what we want to hear, so long as we help them in the military efforts against their Muslim Rebels. They know we will leave afterwards.
    They are not getting involved in “America’s” contest with China over the South China Sea. They know the Chinese will eventually succeed and, once again, the U.S. will fail and depart. Look at our track record, as is everyone else. A mere 17 years in Afghanistan and we still can’t beat the Taliban. The North Vietnamese drove us out of Vietnam and we abandoned the South Vietnamese government and military we originally created in 1954-55. We were driven out of Somalia and Lebanon, …
    Who is foolish enough to partner with a country like the US against a rising power with a massive industrial base?