U.S. political activism in this region is mirrored by a far more serious effort to revive lapsed military cooperation with the Philippines. In 2010 Filipinos elected a willing partner in President Benigno Aquino 3rd, who has led the most serious Philippine external defense modernization effort since the 1960s. On July 1 Defense Minister Voltaire Gazmin announced the intention to purchase six Korean Aircraft Industries T/A-50 Golden Eagle lead-in fighter trainers, which could grow to 12 or more. On Aug. 2 he announced the intention to purchase two Italian Maestrale-class frigates over the next two years, that would give the Philippine navy its most potent combat ship ever.
Both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations have worked with Manila to rebuild its defenses. Three Hamilton-class frigates could be delivered by 2013, and, more recently, Washington has been helping Manila build a new “coast watch” surveillance capability. There have also been more important strides to increase training and professionalism in the Filipino military. Three annual exercise cycles—Balikatan, Phiblex and Carat—have facilitated a regular deployment of U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force assets; Philippine navy personnel fly patrols in U.S. Navy P-3 Orion aircraft. These could be spending more time in the Philippines, as Manila is now open to an increased U.S. military presence on a rotational basis that does not approach formal basing.