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Surprise sale of F-16s to Philippines would counter China, boost popular ties with U.S.

In a surprise June 24 announcement the U.S. State Department approved the possible future purchase of 12 F-16V fighters by the Philippines.
FPI / July 4, 2021

By Richard Fisher

Since 1995 China has been encroaching on Philippine maritime territories in the South China Sea, has built new strategic air, naval and missile bases in the Spratly Island Group near the Philippines early in the last decade, and has bullied the Philippines to leave remaining islands that it occupies.

Following the Philippine Senate’s September 1991 rejection of a new treaty that would have allowed United States naval and air forces to be based in the Philippines, Manila and Washington have had a roller-coaster military relationship with ups and downs.

High points have included the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), an executive agreement that provided a legal framework for U.S. military forces to visit the Philippines. Another high point was the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement under former President Benigno (Noynoy) Aquino, who passed away on June 24, 2021.

Low points include current Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s Feb. 11, 2020 announcement that he was suspending the VFA in 180 days, which he has instead delayed repeatedly.

Should the VFA be terminated, the military forces of the United States could not enter the Philippines to fulfill any missions pursuant to the 1951 U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty.

In the meantime, the U.S. has continued to hold important military exercises with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), like the Balikatan exercises that practice the defense of Palawan Island, closest to the new Chinese military bases.

The U.S. also provides military aid, like two refurbished Lockheed-Martin C-130 transport aircraft due to be delivered in 2021.

Despite China’s growing military threat to his country, President Duterte has delighted in antagonizing officials from the Obama, Trump and Biden Administrations. His presidency ends in mid-2022 but his daughter Sarah is a leading candidate to succeed him.

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