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America's ‘big stick’ arrives in the Philippines

At over 20 stories tall and 332 meters in length, the USS Theodore Roosevelt cut an intimidating outline against the Manila Bay sunset.

From my seat at the bow of the civilian boat ferrying guests to the socials aboard the US Navy aircraft carrier, I could see an F/A-18 jets parked on the flight deck as well as a complement of helicopters and transport planes.

Our boat approached the carrier from the aft where the ship's name was boldy emblazoned in dark blue on the haze gray paint.

It was US President Theodore Roosevelt, a soldier famous for the charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba, who coined the "speak softly, and carry a big stick"-style of foreign policy, which is also known as gunboat diplomacy.

And as sticks go, they don't come any bigger than the nuclear-powered  Roosevelt and its formidable support group of three destroyers and a cruiser.

If needed, the aircraft carrier can hold more than 70 aircraft, most of which would be F/A-18 jets capable of engaging air and ground targets with missiles, smart bombs, and cannon.

But US Ambassador Kim Sung, in his speech before members of the diplomatic corps, business leaders, military officers, and some government officials offered a contemporary twist on the famous line attributed to Roosevelt.

"I think there are times when we should speak loudly and clearly. And the presence of the Theodore Roosevelt here in Manila Bay sends a very clear message to everyone in the region, especially to our friends in the Philippines. Because our commitment to the US-Philippines alliance is unbreakable and will remain so indefinitely. "

Chinese jamming

The USS Roosevelt's arrival in the Philippines almost coincided with recent China's naval drills in the same area.

Intelligence gathered by the US during the patrol suggested that the Chinese had placed communication jamming devices on some of the artificial islands they had built in the South China Sea.

A pilot of an electronic warfare aircraft which operated from the Roosevelt told GMA News that "[T]he mere fact that some of your equipment is not working is already an indication that someone is trying to jam you."

"And so we have an answer to that," explained the naval officer.

In a brief interview with Ambassador Kim and Naval Strike Group Commander Rear Admiral Steve Koehler, journalists asked if the frequent US aircraft carrier patrols in the region meant the US was ready to defend the Philippines against Chinese aggression.

"I think, personally, the opportunity to have this carrier here, and the opportunity to be in all of this South China Sea Region is an indication that we’re here to support all of our friends and allies here in the region." Rear Admiral Koehler said.

The Duterte Administration had been criticized for not taking a stronger stance against Chinese aggression in the disputed region.

In his recent meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping at the BOAO Forum, President Rodrigo Duterte failed to bring up the issue of the territorial dispute.

Opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes, a known critic of the administration said that the ties between the United States and the Philippines, which spanned several decades, was a  relationship that transcended the preferences of individual presidents.

"Definitely malaking tulong ito. Kasi dito napapakita na talagang, despite yung mga rheotoric ni Duterte, ay maigting pa Rin ang alyansa ng Pilipinas at Estados Unidos.,Particularly in relation to kanilang freedom of navigation patrol. Malaking bagay yan," said Trillanes. — DVM/KBK, GMA News