SUBIC, Philippines (The Adobo Chronicles, Manila Bureau) – Four US warships left this free port on Tuesday, a day before the scheduled conclusion of this year’s joint military drills between Filipino and American troops.
The maneuvers called Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex 33) ended on Monday, although the drills were scheduled to run until Wednesday. The exercises involved 500 Filipino soldiers and 1,400 American troops.
It was not clear whether the early end of Phiblex 33 was a response to President Duterte’s recent assertion that the joint exercises were the last of his six-year presidency.
Mr. Duterte has also said he wants US forces out of Mindanao island so he can talk peace with Moro separatists who have not forgotten US atrocities there during the Moro wars of the early 20th century.
US Marines from the USS Bonhomme Richard and the USS Germantown were seen loading military vehicles and other equipment back to their ships on Tuesday noon. The ships were scheduled to leave later that day.
The USNS Fall River and the USS Green Bay left the port on Tuesday morning, according to the seaport department of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.
In addition to the military vehicles and equipment, the four US ships were seen being loaded with crates and crates of balikbayan boxes — those corrugated boxes containing tax-free goods brought in an out by expatriates and returning Filipinos.
In a statement issued today by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) the US ships did not violate any Philippine law because the Americans were considered balikbayans. They have been residents of the Philippines for decades during the time when America maintained US military bases in the country.
“The Americans who were here for the military drills were considered returning citizens and as such were each entitled to the number and contents of balikbayan boxes as permitted by existing law,” BOC said.