Renewed Cooperation Green Lights U.S.-Philippine Exercise
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
MANILA, Oct. 7, 1999 A major combined forces exercise involving thousands of U.S. and Filipino troops is slated in early 2000, Defense Secretary William Cohen announced during a press conference here Oct. 3.
The announcement follows the Philippine Senate's ratification earlier this year of a new visiting forces agreement that will return U.S. troops to the islands after a seven-year hiatus. The last contingent of U.S. Marines sailed from Subic Bay on Nov. 24, 1992, after the Philippine Senate refused to renew a 10-year lease on the base in 1991.
Cohen said U.S. naval vessels already have visited the island nation under the new agreement. "Our militaries have begun to work together," he said. "As we plan and conduct exercises that are in our mutual interests, we will develop a stronger security partnership between our sovereign nations, and our militaries will learn to work together more effectively, building upon a very long history of friendship."
Cohen and Philippine Defense Minister Orlando Mercado also agreed to establish a team of experts from both countries to help re-equip the Philippine armed forces.
"Our problems are myriad," Mercado told reporters. He said the Philippines urgently needs light, medium and heavy airlift capability, new helicopters and more C-130 transport aircraft and naval patrol vessels, but added his country isn't depending on the United States to satisfy all those needs.
Cohen said the United States and the Philippines will "methodically and systematically" reconcile requirements and resources and set priorities to improve Philippine defense capabilities.
As he did for Thailand earlier in his trip, Cohen agreed to help transport Philippine troops to East Timor, where they will participate in Operation Stabilize to restore peace to the troubled Indonesian island province. To date, the Philippines has committed 240 troops to the operation, and Mercado said U.S. transportation assistance will enable the country to send another battalion of 600 to 1,000 soldiers.
Before departing Manila to return to Washington, Cohen visited the Manila American Military Cemetery and Memorial, where tens of thousands of Americans and Filipinos killed during World War II are buried. Later, he told reporters traveling with him the prospect for peace and stability in the region has never been stronger.