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The Philippines sees naval port as vital to US

SUBIC, Philippines -- The Philippines said Monday a former U.S. naval base facing the South China Sea could play a key role as a hub for American ships as Washington moves to strengthen its presence in the Asia-Pacific.

Once the U.S. military's largest overseas facility, the former Subic Bay naval base 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Manila has been transformed into a free port and tourism zone since it was shut down in 1992.

But a senior Philippine official pointed out that, with the United States planning to shift the bulk of its fleet to the Pacific by 2020 as it focuses on Asia, it would need natural deep water bays to dock its ships and submarines.

“Based on U.S. official pronouncements, there is a strategic rebalancing (of its forces) and that means more assets, more aircraft in the Western Pacific,” said Edilberto Adan, a former general who heads the government's Visiting Forces Agreement commission.

“There are very few ports that can accommodate naval assets and naval carriers, and one of them is Subic.

“As the U.S. begins to implement (the shift), Subic will play an important role because it is one of the important facilities that can service their presence in the Pacific.”

He said Subic could “provide the necessary port calls, port visits and servicing required by U.S. assets, naval or aircraft.”

Adan was talking to reporters at Subic Bay aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious Marine Expeditionary Unit assault ship taking part in a 10-day joint exercises with Filipino forces.

Subic, along with the nearby Clark Airbase, were key facilities for the United States, the former colonial ruler of the Philippines, during World War II.

They then provided logistical support during the Vietnam War in the 1970s, and remained of strategic importance during the Cold War.

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United States Marines and their Philippine counterparts are seen marching with their respective national flags at the opening of the Philippines-U.S. amphibious landing exercise, dubbed Phiblex 2013, aboard the American destroyer USS Bonhomme Richard which is docked at Subic Freeport, a former U.S. naval base, west of Manila, Philippines on Monday, Oct. 8. (AP)

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