US used to have a large presence in the Philippines with strategic bombers (i.e. at Clark Air Base, which was evacuated after the 1991 Mt Pinatubo volcanic eruption and the US Air Force never went back afterwards), naval bases, a naval hospital (Subic Bay Hosiptal, abandoned by US Navy in 1992) etc. However now the US does not keep any military bases in the Philippines. Is it because after the fall of Saigon, the US does not want to engage in Southeast Asian affairs, and the Philippines stopped recognizing South Vietnam, which the US militarily supported using the Philippines' bases for 20 years?

Are there any military leaders or politicians who have expressed support of the US going back to the Philippines, since it provides a better location than Guam and Okinawa (closer to South China Sea), and as then US presidential candidate stated, it is expensive for the US to keep troops in Japan, while Japan is not paying enough for the US the protect them?

Also I noted that Philippines was a US commonwealth. US keeps a naval base in Cuba, a former US territory, but why not keep a base in the Philippines as well?

  • I edited your post to adjust the opinion-based second question to be less opinion-based, you can feel free to roll it back if it conflicts with your intent. Even so, this is still 3 questions in one. Perhaps the first two paragraphs could be modified to just be background information and your question could be for what reasons the military has decided to keep their bases in Japan while removing their presence from the Philippines? Mar 30, 2017 at 15:42
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    The premise of your question is wrong. The US military has not completely retreated from the Philippines. The US Navy, through the Amphibious Readiness Group Eleven, does annual amphibious exercises with the Philippine Navy and Marines, to include Rotary and Fixed wing Operations at Clark Air Base. The US forces did not retreat, they were told to leave: nytimes.com/1991/12/28/world/… Mar 30, 2017 at 19:42

2 Answers 2


Why Did the US Have Bases in the Philippines?

First of all, why did the US have military bases in the Philippines to begin with? After World War II, the United States and the Philippines jointly signed the Military Bases Agreement, which allowed the US to use some military facilities in the Philippines. The Agreement cites the following reasons for this arrangement:

  • Coming out of World War II, the two nations recognized a mutual desire for a military presence in the area.
  • The Philippines requested a regular US military presence.
  • The US was willing to use their forces to provide some security for the Philippines.

Declining Need

In 1991, negotiators met to decide the future of US military installations in the Philippines. Contemporary news sources say that a volcano erupted that same year, severely damaging the facility. The article says that about 600 of the 3,500 buildings (or about 17%) of the facilities were destroyed or severely damaged, and air operations were impossible.

Most staff had already been evacuated by this time. So the facilities were empty and severely damaged.

Wikipedia claims (unsourced) that the base's fortunes grew with the Cold War, and declined as the Cold War was ending.

Finally, the base was formally closed after the Philippine legislature refused to offer a new lease to the US. According to the New York Times, the legislature felt that the American military presence was a vestige of colonialism.

Events Since Then

Since 1991, there have been several forces which are pushing for or against a US military presence:

  • One factor in favor of increasing US military involvement is disorder in the South China Sea. The former president of the Philippines helped bring in more US troops in order to help contain Chinese entry there.

However, there are several factors against it:

  • Tourists in the Philippines may feel safer when US armed services are not present.

  • Public sentiment is against a US military presence. When the Philippine news reports a possibility of a US military presence, there are numerous protests (from the same source).

  • Several high-profile sexual crimes were perpetrated by US armed services personnel in the Philippines. (same source)
  • The current President of the Philippines loudly opposes a US military presence there.
  • 3
    Nice answer however I did notice the quotation of Global Times, which is a know Chinese propagandist and pseudo-news organization. Mar 31, 2017 at 5:18
  • I had never heard of that paper before. I will take a look into that today, thanks. Mar 31, 2017 at 12:52
  • There have been some unsubstantiated rumors that "Global Times" supposedly is a known Chinese propagandist and pseudo-news organisation.
    – gnasher729
    Apr 2, 2017 at 21:17
  • 4
    There is some public sentiment against U.S. military presence, but it's hardly ubiquitous. Most of the Filipino people I've met were generally pro-U.S. (I've been to the Philippines on several occasions and have lots of friends there.) Even Duterte has seemed to have softened his stance quite a bit since his election. And, yeah, that source definitely has a pro-China bias, which makes sense, considering that it's a Chinese source.
    – reirab
    Dec 29, 2017 at 16:58
  • 1
    Sorry, this answer is out of date from events since at least 2014.
    – user9790
    Jun 7, 2018 at 21:38

It's not true that there is no presence of US Troops in the Philippines. For example, there are "advisors" on the ground helping defend Marawi against Islamic extremists. This initiative was under the Trump administration.

“They are also not engaged in battles, but in case their defenses are breached they are allowed to protect themselves,” he said. The Americans are carrying rifles, he said.

The American presence in Marawi is complicated, and not just because of the possibility that United States troops could get drawn into battle.

The Philippine Constitution prohibits the presence of foreign combat troops, and President Rodrigo Duterte, who has frequently sparred with the United States, a military ally, has threatened to eject American forces from his country.

And in January of 2017 it was announced

MANILA (Reuters) - The United States will upgrade and build facilities on Philippine military bases this year, Manila's defense minister said on Thursday, bolstering an alliance strained by President Rodrigo Duterte's opposition to a U.S. troop presence.

The Pentagon gave the green light to start the work as part of an Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a 2014 pact that Duterte has threatened to scrap during barrages of hostility towards the former colonial power.

Given the dynamic of Duerte and his opposition to troops, it's worthwhile to read both articles in full, as the relationship is complicated, and often contradictory, and sometimes the Philippine military does things not in clear sight of all.

This build up of troops and base building began under Obama to counter some of the Chinese aggression mentioned in the OP.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Thursday that U.S. troops and military equipment would be sent on regular rotations in the Philippines and that the two countries had started joint patrols in the South China Sea as China increasingly asserts its territorial claims.

The initiatives are designed so that the United States does not increase its permanent footprint in its former colony, but they demonstrate that the two countries are increasing security cooperation amid joint concerns over China’s actions in the region’s disputed waterways.

Countries across the region have expressed concern over China’s activities, but the broader American military presence was not meant to provoke conflict with the Chinese, Carter said.

“There will be a regular, periodic presence here of American forces,” Carter said at a news briefing in Manila with Philippine Defence Minister Voltaire Gazmin. “The things that we’re doing here are part of a pattern that goes back decades. They’re by the invitation of an alliance partner.”

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