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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        28  April 2011

US forces could return to the Philippines

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High-level visits in the Philippines' Subic Bay Freeport by US officials have raised the prospect of a return of the United States’ military presence in this former naval base in the wake of disasters that hit Japan, which have delayed the planned US military build-up in Guam.

US Senators Daniel Inouye and Thad Cochran visited this free port on Tuesday, April 26 and met with Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) and Olongapo City officials.

Media learned of the visit but were informed that it was “not open to press coverage”.

In March, US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. also met with local officials and briefed them about the impact of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on the transfer of US military bases in Okinawa to Guam. The visit was not announced to reporters here.

Inouye and Cochran, chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the US Senate committee on appropriations, appeared to be interested in the possibility of an increased presence of the US military in the country, a source present at the luncheon meeting for the visiting senators hosted by Subic and local officials told the Inquirer.

The source, who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak on the matter, said: “Their official reason for being here was to obtain a situationer of developments in the area and to consult with local officials about these. They even brought their technical staff. During the discussion, they were curious about the reception in the country of an (increased presence of the US military) here.”

The source also said the US embassy “gave strict instructions that (the media) not be allowed to cover the visit.”

“Their embassy arranged the logistics of the visit directly with Olongapo City (officials), and not the SBMA,” the source said.

Facilities in the free port that can be used by the US military, like the airport and seaport, are intact, according to the source.

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