U.S. Military’s Philippine Woes Mounting
Image Credit: U.S. Navy (Flickr)

U.S. Military’s Philippine Woes Mounting


A series of unfortunate mishaps in the past two weeks has afflicted United States military forces stationed in the Philippines. 

On January 6th, a BQM-74E target drone that appeared to be of American origin was found floating in the waters off Masbate, an island province in the central Philippines.  Although the U.S. was known to be flying reconnaissance drones to assist Filipino forces, Washington is not authorized to conduct aerial strikes with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). 

Another incident occurred on January 17th, when the USS Guardian minesweeper ran aground on the South Atoll of the Tubbataha Reef, a no-sail zone and UN marine protected habitat in the Sulu Sea in the southern Philippines.

U.S. officials in Manila immediately moved to contain both controversies. In the case of the fallen drone in Masbate, the U.S. Embassy in Manila denied the drone was launched from Philippines airspace and insisted instead that it had been used in a naval exercise in Guam months earlier and ocean currents carried it into Filipino waters.

“The unarmed target drone that washed ashore off the coast of Masbate Island is an expended BQM-74E Aerial Target drone … launched from the USS Chafee during exercise Valiant Shield 2012 on Sept. 19, 2012, off the coast of Guam,” an embassy spokesperson said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs later backed this sequencing of events.

As for the grounded navy ship, the U.S. Pacific Fleet explained that the ship had just completed a port call in Subic Bay and was en route to Indonesia and Timor Leste to participate in a training exercise when the accident occurred. Representatives of the fleet initially blamed faulty mapping data for the grounding, and vowed to further probe the incident.

“While the erroneous navigation chart data is important information, no one should jump to conclusions. It is critical that the U.S. Navy conduct a comprehensive investigation that assesses all the facts surrounding the Guardian grounding,” said U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesperson Capt. Darryn James. 

Between the mysterious small drone and the navy ship, which is still stuck in the pristine coral reefs of Tubbataha, the latter is clearly a bigger problem for the U.S. military. Criticisms of the drone incident have been mainly limited to anti-American activists and nationalists. With regards to the ship incident, however, these groups have been joined by environmentalists, local politicians, and concerned citizens in condemning the irreparable damage caused by the USS Guardian to the marine resources in the Tubbataha Reef. 

According to the initial assessment made by the Philippine government, the USS Guardian damaged 1,000 square meters of the marine park. Moreover, the destruction to marine life in the area may continue to worsen as the recovery operation is expected to take two weeks. The U.S. Navy and Philippine Coast Guard must first siphon off all 56,000 liters (15,000 gallons) of fuel from the ship to avoid any spills— a process that has been delayed by rough waters— and then the vessel will be lifted from the area.

The Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) has vowed to file charges against the USS Guardian for unauthorized entry and damage to the reef. Personnel of the TPAMB alleged that the USS Guardian was in “battle position” when Filipino marine rangers tried to approach the ship to assess the situation.

“It willfully trespassed. It wasn't lost. It was the voyage of an intruder,” said Palawan province congressman Antonio Alvarez. “It boggles the mind on how a state-of-the-art ship with satellite-aided navigation and provided with the latest maps is unable to find its way at sea?”

The drone and minesweeper incidents would obviously provide additional ammunition to groups and individuals who are critical of the expanded presence of U.S. military forces in the country. The U.S. lost access to Naval Base Subic Bay and Clark Air Base soon after the Cold War ended but it conducts regular joint exercises with the Philippine military in many parts of the country. 

In the past, communist and Muslim separatist rebels have accused the Philippine government of allowing U.S. troops to participate in actual combat operations. They have seized on the drone sighting in Masbate to bolster their case.

Furthermore, it was exposed last year that toxic waste from U.S. naval ships was dumped into Subic Bay. This scandal and the recent Tubbataha incident have infuriated environmental groups who claim that the presence of U.S. military forces in the Philippines is a threat to the country’s already fragile ecosystem. 

Philippine government officials may be unconcerned with what happened in Masbate and Tubbataha, but not all Filipinos share this attitude.

An earlier version of this article listed the amount of fuel in the USS Guardian as 6,000 liters. The correct number is 56,000 liters. 

February 3, 2013 at 23:53

Sorry but your the Nth invader and modern Filipinos will never agree again that this will happen.  Imperial China will not prevail 

February 3, 2013 at 23:50

Get your facts straight that was not on the airport and the policeman involved was out of his mind.  Climbed on this tourist bus and started this all, but did he really choose which nationality to kill?? No.  it just happened that this was the bus he climbed on, there was no proof he was selecting a certain nationality.  

February 3, 2013 at 23:44

Right over our dead brown bodies sir,  were not going to get Imperial China on our grounds even if it means death.!

February 3, 2013 at 23:42

The left parties in the Philippines is making so much fuss about that drone and the USS Guardian.  The drone was for target practice, no harm done… the USS Guardian has done something unacceptable although not a major major mess.  1st they ignored warnings by the park rangers that they were approaching Tubbatah reef a UN Heritage site,  and of course the grounding of the Ship damaging some sizable amount of corals in the area.   BUT generally it seems that anyone here agrees that its okay it happens, if not for some negligent USN Captains.   The only thing we hate about this is when the US makes mistakes the left makes sure that they beat their drum till everyone knows.  When their comrades China makes a MISSLE SHIP grounded they don't make any fuss so you know where their loyalties are.  But really for the majority of the Filipinos it is no big deal.  ITS the communist left making so much fuss about it. who cares…. 

Lord MG Kilpatrick
February 3, 2013 at 22:19


Today, the United States and Philippines are the closest of friends and allies.
During more than six decades of nation-building, Filipinos have looked to the United States for political inspiration, financial and military assistance, and diplomatic support. Americans, in turn, have viewed the Philippines with a special appreciation for its successful effort to follow the Western democratic tradition, its remarkable economic development, and its determined struggle against its uncompromising enemies.


February 2, 2013 at 21:59

Whatever, man. How many AmeriCans are in the Philippine Navy? And how many Philippinos are in the US Navy? That's what I thought. Americans are the out-of-work, lazy ones. Yeah.
PS: have fun with Abu Sayef and the MILF if your dreams come true and the AmeriCan advisors pack up their toys and go home.
Peace, brother.

February 2, 2013 at 21:49

Read it again, guy: it says lifted, not airlifted.

February 1, 2013 at 23:54

Personally, I think that if we just completely leave the Philippines alone, they will fall to the Communist, or soon to the Chinese.  Then they will be worse off than they were under the Japanese.  They should be thankful for an American presence.  That's the main reason they are a free and prosperous nation at this time. Give 'em what they want…  It's like my infant son wanting my bottle of hot sauce.  He'd have been very unhappy getting what he wanted.

January 31, 2013 at 22:55

I am Filipino and if you see the protests it is being held by the Left known to be a legal front of the CPP. It is being downplayed because by the very essence of the group protesting, if it is lets say the common people then yes that has some truth to it, but if it is this group of people who are protesting it's really not give any credibility because they protest just about anything to do with the United States.

What Filipino's want is simply that the United States pay for the damages it has done, simple as that. They did not encroached on our Sovereignty only that they made a mistake in getting stuck in our Reef!

January 30, 2013 at 22:53

In the case of the US minesweeper , the shiip's navigation sistem was hacked .  How I do not know yet . Who did it  ?  It was China . Why ? Because it has an interest in the area . It does not want US around there . China wants to controll ASIA an then the WORLD . Sounds crazy , but lately China displays the same behaviour as Japan before WW2 . This time China will not make the same mistake as Japan did back then . This time China is prepared for a confruntation with the US , it has information about US and its allies , is building up a military . It has the technology(all of us contributed to that . like hungry rats we all went to China and developed it , we brought factories there , capital know how ,  etc ) From industrial point of view China has production capabilities far greateher than the US . It can manufacture weapons cheaper and in great number . The WW2 showed that who has more guns wins the war .
Back to our topic , China has the capability to hack a US minesweeper . They just showed it .

Shilly, Trolly Double-Standards
January 30, 2013 at 13:40

Naturally.  You jobless Amerikan f*lth taking illicit money from CIA and disgusing yourself as other nationals and slandering other nationalities non stop with your lies, disinformation, misinformation, and tother BS, are nothing short of f*lthy and a d*g.  You call other nationalities denigratingly in racial terms.  Why, you can't take the same?  Why, you can't handle the truth?  Why, only you can maintain a good name and image of Amerikans but its alright to give others a negative and black image?  Amerikan hypocrites and f*lth!  Go and get an honest job, bud. Stop slandering others.

January 30, 2013 at 11:46

Latest – Jan 30 2013 (Wednesday); spokesman for the Pacific Fleet Capt. Daryin James says the ship will be cut up to facilitate its very careful removal from the reef. The ship is to be removed piece by piece. 2 vessels with cranes to lift pieces of the carcass are right now sailing to the area from Singapore. Hope the operation will be done correctly.

January 30, 2013 at 09:33

He is because he is a member of Kabataan Party list which is affiliated with the NPA. It is part of the Legal Front of the CPP.

January 30, 2013 at 09:32

It is your government that I abhored, my GF's grandfather is a pure Chinese her father is half and she is 1/4 Chinese and some of my friends are of Chinese decent as well. Though with that all of us are United in the opinion and China should stay away from Philippine territory.

Sad Way
January 29, 2013 at 14:13

While the Chinese in the past had cordial relations with the Philippines the same cannot be said the other way round. The Chinese in the Phillipines have been constantly subjected to attacks and other crimes by vicious local criminals and corrupt policemen. Chinese are favourite targets for common criminals like murderers, robbers, kidnappers and even police thugs. Recall the bloody massacre at the Manila airport where one rogue policeman massacred them in cold blood ?

January 29, 2013 at 08:17

@Be Way,
Millionsof Filipinos were massacred. Wow. A hundred years ago, that pretty much was the population of our islands. And when these massive atrocities were being made, where was China? Oh yeah, having trouble of its own.
Cordial relationship with China? Abhorence towards Chinese? Let's make it clear that what we abhor is your government's actions. I've got nothing against Chinese people as a whole. Heck, too many Filipinos have Chinese in our blood. I had been hoping for a counterweight to America but that hope was dashed last year. A saint Beijing is not. Let's see if Xi Jinping can turn things around on this side of the world.

January 29, 2013 at 02:40

Just so you know, these Communist leftists are a very small minority.
that's why local tv shows them rallying against the Visiting Forces Agreement or American military presence. they have little to no understading how geopolitics work and how the US is keeping China in check.

January 29, 2013 at 02:33

China destroyed that "close and cordial" relationship last year as far as Filipinos are concerned.

January 29, 2013 at 02:26

"Philippine government officials may be unconcerned with what happened in Masbate and Tubbataha, but not all Filipinos share this attitude."

Mr.Palatino, if you are one of those leftists against the VFA, then your concerns are misdirected – it should be pointing northwest.

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