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Friday, January 21, 2011

The Republic of the Philippines and U.S. Interests

Thomas Lum
Specialist in Asian Affairs

The United States and the Republic of the Philippines maintain close ties based upon the U.S.- Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty, the period of U.S. colonialization (1898-1946), common strategic and economic interests, and shared democratic values. The United States long maintained sizable naval and air force bases in the country. Although the Philippine Senate voted against U.S. wishes to close American military installations in 1992, bilateral security cooperation resumed following territorial disputes between the Philippines and China in 1994 and the launching of the Global War on Terrorism in 2002. After 2001, the Philippines received one of the most dramatic increases in U.S. foreign aid in Southeast Asia, largely for counterterrorism purposes, including not only military assistance but also health, education, and economic assistance in Muslim areas of Mindanao. In 2010, the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation approved a five-year, $434 million aid compact with the Philippine government focusing on taxation reform, poverty reduction, and infrastructure development.

Broad U.S. policy objectives include maintaining the U.S.-Philippines alliance and stability in Southeast Asia; assisting the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in counterterrorism efforts and with modernization and administrative reforms; supporting the peace process in western Mindanao; promoting broad-based economic growth and human rights; and helping the Philippines to develop stable and responsive democratic institutions. Some Members of Congress have expressed concern about the incidence of political violence in the country. President Benigno Aquino, elected in 2010, has indicated that he will continue the economic reforms started by his predecessor but place greater emphasis upon fighting corruption and protecting human rights. Other areas of congressional attention include overseeing substantial U.S. foreign aid and counterterrorism programs in the country and maintaining a strong U.S. presence in the region.

The Philippines faces terrorist threats from several groups, including the New People’s Army, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a small, violent Islamist organization which operates in the southern Philippines, and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a Southeast Asian Islamic terrorist organization with reported ties to Al Qaeda. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Muslim separatist group that seeks to establish an autonomous entity in western Mindanao, has been at war against the Philippine armed forces, punctuated by periods of cease fire, since the mid-1990s. Contacts between the ASG, JI, and the MILF reportedly have been tenuous but significant. The difficulty of resolving the question of political autonomy for the MILF means that the southern region is likely to remain unstable and unsecure and may provide sanctuary for terrorist groups.

Since 2002, the United States has provided non-combat assistance to the AFP through the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines (JSOTF-P). Philippine-U.S. counterterrorism efforts have helped to significantly reduce the size and strength of Abu Sayyaf. Joint activities include a significant non-military component which has promoted development in Mindanao and helped to reduce the incentives for civilians and insurgents to join separatist and terrorist organizations.

While the United States remains the dominant foreign military, political, economic, and cultural influence in the Philippines, China has become a major trading partner and source of financing and investment. The Philippines has welcomed growing diplomatic and economic interaction with China, but continues to rely upon the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as security and diplomatic counterweights to rising Chinese power.

Date of Report: January 3, 2011
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: RL33233
Price: $29.95

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