KYODO: U.S. Marines to Set Up Command Post on Palawan Island

Guam - Japan's Kyodo News Service is reporting that a contingent of  U.S. Marines is planing to set up an "advance command post" on the Western Philippine island of Palawan facing the South China Sea.

According to Kyodo, the plan calls for stationing 50 to 60 American marines on Palawan.

The news agency quotes an un-named "senior Philippine marine officer".

Construction on the command Post is slated to begin this month ahead of the annual Philippine-U.S. amphibious landing exercise in Palawan, reports Kyodo.

READ the Kyodo posting in FULL below:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

U.S. Marines To Set Up Marine Command Post Facing South China Sea

MANILA (Kyodo)--The U.S. Marines plan to set up an "advance command post" on the western Philippine island of Palawan that faces the South China Sea, a senior Philippine marine officer told Kyodo News Tuesday.

An aerial view shows the Pagasa Island, which belongs to the disputed Spratly group of islands, in the South China Sea located off the coast of the western Philippines.

"The plan is to station 50 to 60 American marines in Palawan as an advance command post in the region," said the officer privy to the plan.

Palawan is an island province closest to the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea being claimed in whole or in part by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

According to the officer, the plan includes converting a 246-hectare Philippine Marine Corps reservation in Samariniana town in Brooke's Point, in southeastern Palawan, into a joint marine operational command.

The officer said the 1.1 kilometer airstrip inside the reservation will be extended to 2.4 km to accommodate big U.S. military transport planes.

Construction work will begin in September in time for the annual Philippine-U.S. amphibious landing exercise in Palawan, he said.

"U.S. Marines will hire Filipino contractors to do the works because it will be costly if they bring their equipment over," he said.

More buildings will also be erected there, the officer said.

Aside from Samariniana, the source said the U.S. military is also looking at developing joint "operational bases" in other parts of Palawan, including Oyster Bay, Ulugan Bay, Macarascas town, Puerto Princesa City, Tarumpitao Point in Rizal and San Vicente town.

Palawan is just one of the areas identified both by Manila and Washington where U.S. Marines will train in a rotating deployment, the officer said.

He said that several military facilities in the Philippine main island of Luzon and Mindanao island in southern Philippines have also been "opened for access" for U.S. troops.

"These are choke points. These are very strategically located areas that can be used by both the U.S. and the Philippine forces," he said, adding that Americans can berth their warships and park their planes in the Philippines for "servicing and maintenance."

"The officer said the airstrip in Balabac, the southernmost island in the Palawan archipelago that was used by U.S. forces during World War ll, will also be restored and improved.

Another source said the Philippine military offered Palawan to Lt. Gen. Duane Thiessen, commanding general of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific, during his visit to Palawan last April to attend the joint U.S.-Philippine war games.

Diplomatic and military sources said the United States specifically wants more access to Philippine airfields and ports for "servicing and maintenance" including refueling and repair of U.S. aircraft and ships.

These areas include military facilities in the former U.S. military bases Clark in Pampanga and Subic Bay in Olongapo, Poro Point in La Union, Sangley Point in Cavite, Laoag City on Luzon Island and Zamboanga on Mindanao, sources said.

Also being considered are similar facilities in Batanes, the northernmost Philippine island province closest to Taiwan, General Santos City in Mindanao and Cebu City in the central Philippines.

The sources said the number of U.S. troops that will be rotated through the Philippines reportedly hovers between 4,000 and 4,500, including U.S. Marines based in Okinawa, Japan.

But the sources said that the final size of the U.S. troops and details of the plan are still being finalized.

Philippine and U.S. officials are mum about the plan to increase the American presence in the Philippines, a long-time U.S. ally which 20 years ago kicked the U.S. forces out from their huge naval and air bases in the country.

U.S. Ambassador Harry Thomas told a business forum last week that "the close partnership we have with the Philippines, as we work together to advance our shared interests on regional strategic issues, on security and economic cooperation, means that the U.S. and the Philippines are writing a new chapter in our longstanding alliance, and building a relationship for the coming century, and beyond."

China has territorial disputes with U.S. allies, including the Philippines, over islands, shoals, cays and reefs in the South China Sea. It has behaved assertively in recent years, alarming the Philippines and other claimants.

The United States has repeatedly said it will not take sides, while urging claimants to resolve the dispute peacefully.

The Philippines' 1987 constitution bans permanent foreign military basing in its soil. But the U.S. maintains strong security ties with the Philippines through a 1951 mutual defense treaty.

In 1998, Washington and Manila forged a visiting forces agreement, paving the way for increased military cooperation under the 1951 treaty.

Under the agreement, the U.S. has conducted ship visits to Philippine ports and resumed large combined military exercises with Philippine forces.

Currently, at any one time since 2002, there are about 600 combined U.S. troops "rotating" in Zamboanga, mainly providing "counterterrorism assistance and training" to Philippine soldiers combating Muslim extremists in southern Philippines.

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