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02 Balikatan 24 25th Infantry Division Filipino Philippines Douglas McArthur China Scarborough Shoal Support Our Troops

Batan, Philippines. (May 6, 2024): When the Cold War ended in the 1990s, America withdrew its forces from the Philippines ending decades of American military presence in the country. In response to increasingly aggressive behavior by the Chinese, the United States is returning to the Philippines in great strength. In this photo by Specialist Benjamin Anderson, Army Sergeant Mariana Vincent, and Specialist Wangae Popeh, both assigned to 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, pull security during Exercise Balikatan 24.

Balikatan 24 is an annual exercise between the Armed Forces of the Philippines that has taken on greater urgency given recent Chinese harassment of Filipino vessels in international waters. In April 2012, the Philippine Navy attempted to apprehend Chinese fishermen on the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. Chinese Naval vessels intervened, and the resulting standoff has aggravated relations between these Indo-Pacific neighbors ever since. The Philippines also accuses China of illegally occupying the nearby Spratly Islands which it considers within its economic zone.

The United States and the Philippines are longtime allies and operate under an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in 2014. The agreement grants America access to Filipino territory to establish military installations. The bulk of American forces will rotate out of the Philippine city of Santa Ana on the country’s northern coast. Here they will establish camps and store weapons and equipment needed should a conflict with China erupt.

A positive aspect of America’s return is the economic benefits and aid enjoyed by the mostly rural, agriculturally based economies where bases will be located. The U.S. military is planning to deploy humanitarian civic assistance teams to build schools and medical centers and train local medical providers. All told, the American presence will inject over fifty million dollars a year into impoverished locations each year.

In World War II, General Douglas McArthur pledged “I shall return.” Nearly eighty years later, America is indeed returning to the Philippines.