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"End of Marawi Siege Underscores Critical Importance of US-Philippine Alliance" by Ian Storey

2017/65, 30 October 2017

The end of hostilities in Marawi city in Mindanao has underscored the critical importance of the Philippines’ military alliance with America, despite attempts by President Rodrigo Duterte to forge closer defence ties with China and Russia.

According to the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) General Eduardo Ano, US assistance during the five-month conflict was instrumental in “tilting the balance” against the pro-Islamic State militants.

US forces provided the AFP with invaluable real-time surveillance of the battlespace using drones and P-3 Orion aircraft, intelligence and urban warfare training. The US also transferred 300 assault rifles, 200 pistols, 100 grenade launchers, four heavy machine guns and two Cessna surveillance aircraft.

Chinese military assistance was not insignificant but consisted solely of hardware. China provided 6,000 assault rifles and 9 million rounds of ammunition, almost half of which was transferred to the Philippine National Police. According to Duterte, it was a Chinese-made sniper rifle that was used to kill militant leader Isnilon Haplon, although Philippines army rangers subsequently said it was a heavier, US-manufactured weapon mounted on an armoured vehicle that had killed him.

On 25 October, Russia delivered 5,000 assault rifles, 1 million rounds of ammunition, 4 military vehicles and 5,000 helmets. However, by the time the equipment had arrived in the Philippines the government had declared the siege was over.

Although Duterte was initially reluctant to acknowledge US support, by the end of the conflict he was praising American aid: “I would not say they were our saviours, but they are our allies and they helped us”. He also stated that previous disputes with America were “water under the bridge”.

The conflict in Marawi highlights the AFP’s preference for US military assistance over other countries, and the high levels of comfort and interoperability between the US and Philippine armed forces built up over nearly seven decades. While the Philippines’ defence cooperation with China and Russia will undoubtedly grow incrementally, America will remain the country’s most important security partner for the foreseeable future.

Dr Ian Storey is Senior Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.