Cohen Announces New U.S.-Philippine Agreement
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
JAKARTA, Indonesia, Jan. 21, 1998 The United States and the Philippines could soon resume joint exercises, combined training and ship visits under a new visiting forces agreement, Defense Secretary William Cohen announced here Jan. 14.
"Today, amidst the uncertainty we are currently facing in the Asia-Pacific, the United States and [the Philippines) have taken an important step together to reassure the region and promote peace and prosperity," Cohen told reporters at the U.S. Embassy. The secretary was in Jakarta as part of a 12-day tour of seven East Asian nations.
If the Philippine government ratifies the agreement, U.S. forces could return for the first time since U.S. bases closed in 1992. The secretary emphasized DoD has no plans to establish any new bases in the island nation.
"Instead," he said, "we are embarking on a new phase in our security relationship as partners, friends and allies."
U.S. forces left the Philippines after the two governments couldn't agree on how much the United States should pay to continue occupying the sprawling Subic Bay naval base. Then, Mount Pinatubo erupted, forcing American service members and families to flee and smothering Subic Bay and Clark Air Base under tons of volcanic ash and debris. The cataclysm essentially ended the U.S. military presence.
Cohen offered no timetable for the resumption of U.S.-Filipino military ties. However, he said, the United States is prepared to exercise with Philippine forces as soon as the Philippine senate ratifies the agreement. "We hope that they would ratify it within a reasonable amount of time," he said.
Although the purpose of Cohen's visits is to promote and stabilize U.S. security arrangements throughout the East Asia, his trip has been overshadowed by the continuing Asian financial crisis.
In each of the countries visited by then -- Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore -- he emphasized the United States' common security interests with the member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The U.S. military presence, he said, is a stabilizing influence that should serve notice that the United States is a friend to the ASEAN countries "in good times and bad."
The resumed military ties to the Philippines "helps establish a presence in the sense that we are in the region," Cohen said, adding new military exchanges and training opportunities there will enable the United States to build on and enhance long-standing bonds. "That benefits the Philippine military, our military and it helps, I think, to contribute to the stability of the region," he said.