History of US Military Base in the Philippines


History timeline of the VFA-EDCA US Military Base in the Philippines

“Puerta Espanola” de Bahía de Subic

In the early 1800s, the Spanish began to establish a naval base and shipyard at Bahia de Subic. It was meant to be a safe anchorage for ships and protect the Manila galleon trade from pirates.

It had a hospital, barracks, and other facilities to support the Spanish naval operations.

1898, The Treaty of Paris

U.S. President William McKinley signed the Treaty of Paris in 1989, officially handing Spain’s former colonies—Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.

America purchased the Philippines from Spain for 20 million dollars, effectively turning the country into its only colony in Asia and using it as a strategic military base.

1901, The first U.S. Military Base in the Philippines

In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered the establishment of America’s first military base at Subic Bay port in Zambales, encompassing Pueblo de Subic or Gapo (Olongapo City). As well as Fort McKinley (now Fort Bonifacio in Taguig) and the Naval Station Sangley Point in Cavite.


U.S. Military Base in Olongapo, 1928. (Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
Before 1911, the Army Nurse Corps served in the Philippines and provided nursing training to Filipino women to support the country’s healthcare needs and US military bases. (Photo: Dolores Zafra Cuajungco)

1941, Japan invades the Philippines

Japan invaded the Philippines, and the U.S. Military Bases became an important site of resistance against the Japanese forces.

1946, The Philippine Independence

Under the Treaty of Manila in 1946, the United States gave the country its Independence but did not relinquish its military presence.

Instead, proposals to expand the military bases were set in motion.

1947, Military Bases Agreement

The Republic of the Philippines and the United States signed the Military Bases Agreement, which allowed the U.S. Navy to retain all its military installations in the Philippines—except Cavite Navy Yard—under a 99-year lease.

1951, Mutual Defense Treaty

In the mid-1950s, the clamor to revise the agreement gave way to a new Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) where Filipino citizens’ rights in the Olongapo Base were subsequently considered.

In 1951, the American Navy developed and expanded its military base. The two countries’ primary objective is to support each other in case of an external armed attack.

1965, New Military Bases Agreement

President Marcos and President Johnson 1966 signed the 1965 Philippine-US Military Bases Agreement (RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty).

It gave the U.S. control over 23 military bases in the country, including the sprawling Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Bases. It had an initial period of 25 years with an option to renew.

During this period, Americans densely populated the area where restaurant pubs Tia Juana. Zebra, Apple rock, Stardust, Hot city, California jam, D’ Hodge bar. Billboard, Airport, and Genesis shaped the Olongapo culture for decades.

1973, Spratly Islands

During his presidency, Ferdinand Marcos Sr. asserted territorial claims over Spratly (Kalayaan Island). He established a 1.3 km airstrip on Pagasa island (Spratly group) with military expansion plans.

The MDT assured the country of U.S. military assistance in case of an external armed attack.

The Sabah claim

In 1972, Marcos Sr. issued P.D. No. 639, which established a government agency North Borneo Bureau, tasked with pursuing the Philippines’ claim over Sabah, knowing America has his back.

In 1989, the Aquino government officially dropped the claim and approved the removal of American military presence in the country.


Naval Base Subic Bay, 1981.

1991, The closure of the U.S. Military Bases

During the term of President Cory Aquino, she and her political allies believe that the Philippines should have full sovereignty over its own territory and not be reliant on foreign military forces.

Aquino also believed that the U.S. military presence was a reminder of the country’s colonial past. The Philippines was the only country in Asia that became an American colony.

In 1990, the Philippine Senate voted not to renew the Military Bases Agreement. Still, the USA offered a new treaty, which was inevitably rejected in November next year.

In June 1991, Mt. Pinatubo erupted, affecting a considerable part of the U.S. Bases facilities.

The U.S. military officially ceased operations on November 24, 1991, and the last of its personnel left the Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base in 1992.

1998, Visiting Forces Agreement

The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was signed between the U.S. and President Fidel Ramos, which allowed U.S. military personnel to visit the country for training and other activities without establishing permanent U.S. military bases.

It paved the way for military exercises such as Balikatan, large-scale joint military training. There is also a VFA between the Philippines and Australia.

U.S. Bases in Subic circa 1990.

2009, China’s claim in the South China Sea

In 2009, China began doubling down on its sovereignty in the South China sea—citing its 1947 nine-dash line. It encompassed a vast area claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei.

As a result, some politicians began to push the government to reconsider welcoming back U.S. military presence without compromising sovereignty.

Juan Ponce Enrile blamed the closure of U.S. Bases in 1992

Senate stalwart and former defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile argued that the closure of the U.S. military bases hurt the country’s security and economy.

It weakened the Philippines’ position in negotiations with other countries, including China and Vietnam, over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The Philippines officially renamed the portion of the South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone to the “Philippine Sea” in 2012.

2014, EDCA: VFA Supplemental Agreement

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) was signed as a supplemental agreement under VFA that permitted the U.S. military to rotate troops for extended stays and operate facilities on Philippine bases for both countries.

President Benigno Aquino Jr. forced to welcome back Americans

In 2014, China began land reclamation in one of the disputed Spratly Islands. They constructed an airstrip, a seaport, and a military base, forcing President Benigno Aquino Jr. to reconsider the return of the U.S. military presence.

Although EDCA faced protest, the Supreme Court ruled its constitutionality in 2016.


2020, Duterte threatens to terminate the VFA

President Rodrigo Duterte intended to terminate the VFA base agreement in January 2020. He was upset by the interference of the United States in domestic affairs—relating to his war on drugs.

At the same time, Duterte was pursuing closer ties with China for economic reasons as well as the issue of disputed islands.

However, the abrogation of the VFA was suspended six months after, upon the President’s instruction which was not disclosed.

2023, VFA-EDCA is expanded to nine locations

The growing threat of Chinese militarization in the disputed area called for an upgrade to the EDCA. From the original four agreed locations, the 2023 EDCA added five more for the joint military exercise.

Palawan East
Palawan South
Nueva Ecija
Cagayan De Oro

Like his father, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. welcomed the expansion of the Visiting Forces Agreement and readily approved the new deal.

There are also plans to improve military facilities at Kalayaan Island in the West Philippines Sea with the help of the U.S. to strengthen the country’s presence in the area.

One of the new locations will be close to Taiwan. In the event Taiwan invasion, the Philippines will become a logistics center for a potential Indo-Pacific alliance.

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