Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume III,  Number 44               December 7 - 13, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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U.S. Base in the Making?
Think tank reveals construction plan in Sarangani Bay

U.S. defense authorities have denied they intend to rebuild a military base in the Philippines opting instead to maximize the Visiting Forces Agreement and increase America’s forward presence through war exercises. A recent Stratfor report says otherwise, suggesting that plans are afoot to construct a military base in Sarangani Bay near Gen. Santos City in southern Philippines.

By Bulatlat.com

Sarangani's pristine beaches, such as this one, may soon host US warships if plans to put up a U.S. military base pushes through, as reported by an American think tank.

Stratfor, a Texas-based think tank, reports that the United States has begun constructing a base in Sarangani Bay near Gen. Santos City in South Cotabato province, southern Philippines.

The facility would serve as “an operations and logistics base and would be a springboard for U.S. military power in Southeast Asia,” the Stratfor report said. A copy of the partial report was received by Bulatlat.com this weekend.

Reports have been circulating in Mindanao that the United States has been eyeing the port and air facilities in the area as replacement for the Subic Naval Base in Olongapo City, central Luzon that was dismantled in 1992.  

In April last year, Stratfor revealed that the U.S. government was preparing a forward base in the Philippines - with Gen. Santos City as potential site - for future “counter-terrorism” strikes in Southeast Asia.

U.S. military presence has increased in the Philippines particularly in Mindanao under the declared objective of fighting “terrorism.” Thousands of U.S. troops have taken part in Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) war exercises and special operations training. The exercises have also included some combat missions that saw U.S. special forces side by side with Philippine troops in hunting down Abu Sayyaf bandits in Basilan and neighboring provinces.

But the exercises have also led to the long-term deployment of some U.S. troops and the installation of military logistics facilities supposedly in support of the exercises.

Mindanao presence

Stratfor said that the United States “is preparing to widen its footprint in conflict-torn Mindanao. Washington has pledged funds to help develop conflict-stricken areas if and when a peace settlement is reached between the island's main rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and the Philippine government.”

Furthermore, Stratfor said, U.S. and Philippine defense officials plan to hold the next Balikatan exercises in North Cotabato in central Mindanao as part of joint efforts to hunt down Jemaah Islamiyah.

Last September, there were sightings of U.S. military personnel in General Santos forcing City Mayor Pedro Acharon, Jr. to confirm the presence of U.S. military advisers. The mayor said the advisers were there to assess infrastructure projects funded under the U.S.’s Philippine Aid Plan.

“Acharon gave the dubious explanation that U.S. soldiers were appraising civilian projects because embassy personnel would not risk traveling to the area due to security concerns,” Stratfor said.

Even before the Stratfor report, there had been signs that the United States plans to build a military base in General Santos, initially with the construction of a USAID-funded huge airfield and a hotel complex.

There have also been studies in the U.S. Navy articulating the reacquisition of its naval base in the Philippines as a valuable support for U.S. military projection in the region. The commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Command has also recently confirmed plans to expand and reposition its military forces in the region to cope with new security requirements.

With its extensive port and air facilities, Sarangani Bay would be an ideal place for a U.S. base in southern Philippines. From the base, U.S. forces would be in a strategic position to launch and support campaign against militant Islamist groups on Mindanao as well as in nearby Indonesia and Malaysia, Stratfor said. Bulatlat.com

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