In 1991, the Philippines voted to end the presence of American military bases in their country, severing the last remaining shackles of colonialism. The move was seen as a victory against colonial oppression and a rejection of the excesses of American troops. However, more recently, the need for a counterweight against China's aggression in the South China Sea has led to the reinvigoration of the alliance between the Philippines and the United States. China's assertive actions, including the building of military installations on disputed islands, have heightened tensions in the region. As a result, the United States and the Philippines have reached an agreement granting US forces access to additional bases in the Philippines.
The history between the Philippines and the United States is complex. The US took control of the Philippines in 1898 and established military bases there. The bases played a role in supporting the American-backed dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose rule was marked by human rights abuses and corruption. The presence of the US military also led to issues such as the sex trade and the abandonment of children fathered by US servicemen. Nevertheless, the Philippines viewed Marcos as a bulwark against communism during the Cold War, and the US bases were seen as essential for security.
After the ousting of Marcos in 1986, the Philippines sought to remove the US military presence and linked the bases to Marcos's abusive rule. However, the vacuum created by the loss of the bases provided opportunities for China to assert its dominance in the South China Sea. The Philippines turned to the United States for support, signing agreements to allow a larger US military presence in the country. Despite occasional incidents and criticism of the power imbalance, the military relationship between the US and the Philippines continued until President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016. Duterte sought closer ties with China and questioned the value of the alliance with the US. However, the relationship survived, and the election of President Bongbong Marcos marked a shift back towards stronger ties with the United States and other maritime powers.
In recent years, joint military exercises between the US and the Philippines, such as the Balikatan Exercises, have increased in scale and scope as a signal to China. The Philippines has sought support from the United States and other allies to counter Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. However, the history of colonialism, abuse, and the negative consequences of the US military presence still lingers in the minds of many Filipinos. The current alliance is driven by the need to address immediate security concerns, but it is important to navigate these complexities and build a relationship based on mutual respect and shared interests.