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Philippines sees former naval port as vital to United States

Crewmen work on the U.S. submarine USS Olympia which is docked at Subic Freeport, a former U.S. naval base, 112.6 km (70 miles) west of Manila, October 8, 2012. (REUTERS/Bullit Marquez/Pool)

SUBIC, Philippines: The Philippines said Monday a former U.S. naval base facing the South China Sea could play a key role as a hub for American ships as Washington moves to strengthen its presence in the Asia-Pacific.

Once the U.S. military’s largest overseas facility, the former Subic Bay naval base 80 kilometers northeast of Manila has been transformed into a freeport and tourism zone since it was shut down in 1992.

But a senior Philippines official pointed out that, with the United States planning to shift the bulk of its fleet to the Pacific by 2020 as it focuses on Asia, it would need natural deep water bays to dock its ships and submarines.

“Based on U.S. official pronouncements, there is a strategic rebalancing [of its forces] and that means more assets, more aircraft in the Western Pacific,” said Edilberto Adan, a former general who heads the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement commission.

“There are very few ports that can accommodate naval assets and naval carriers, and one of them is Subic.

“As the U.S. begins to implement [the shift], Subic will play an important role because it is one of the important facilities that can service their presence in the Pacific.”

He said Subic could “provide the necessary port calls, port visits and servicing required by U.S. assets, naval or aircraft.”

Subic, along with the nearby Clark Airbase, were key facilities for the United States, the former colonial ruler of the Philippines, during World War II.

They then provided logistical support during the Vietnam War in the 1970s, and remained of strategic importance during the Cold War.

However, amid strong nationalist sentiment and street protests calling for U.S. troops to leave the Philippines, the Senate voted in 1992 to end a lease agreement that allowed the bases to operate.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 09, 2012, on page 10.

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