Before China became a prominent security concern, the United States used terrorism as a way to continue engaging the Philippines, expanding its presence in the country.

In 2002, after the 9/11 attack in New York and in Washington, the United States deployed 1,000 troops from its special operations forces to the Philippine south to hunt down the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group in the guise of advising and training the Philippine military.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who was president from 2001 to 2010, allowed US military forces access to local bases in the south, eager to gain special favor from President George W. Bush.

She got what she wanted more than a year later, in October 2003, when the United States designated the Philippines as a major non-NATO ally, which entitled Washington’s oldest security partner in the region to more military financing under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS), Excess Defense Articles (EDA), and the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programs.

However, the deployment of US forces to Zamboanga, Basilan, and Sulu was illegal even if the 1951 Mutual Defense Agreement and the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement existed.

For decades, US forces held joint and combined military exercises in local bases in Luzon under Exercises Balikatan.

Suddenly, Arroyo agreed to hold Balikatan exercises in the southern Philippines, focusing on counter-terrorism.

But Balikatan exercises are conventional military drills to rehearse a mutual defense plan to repel external aggression in the country.

It remained the same today to test the two countries’ interoperability to deal with territorial defense operations.

In short, Arroyo violated the Constitution but hid behind Balikatan to allow US forces to run after Islamist militants in the second front against al Qaeda, which was believed responsible for the World Trade Center attack in September 2001.

More than two decades after the US deployment in the south, Washington and Manila legalized the US presence in the south by signing an agreement, the Security Engagement Board, to authorize non-traditional military activities, like counter-terrorism in the country.

It took more than five years for the two countries to work out a legal arrangement that allowed US forces deployment all year round in the southern Philippines.

It was unusual because most military exercises in Luzon lasted only for two weeks.

That was not only Arroyo’s violation of the Constitution. Before the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) was signed in 2014, she already allowed US forces access to military bases in many parts of the country.

She even allowed US planes to land and take off in a civilian airport to refuel as part of the US operations in Afghanistan and Iraq – another counter-terrorism operation.

The same counter-terrorism excuse will be used by the United States to bring tens of thousands of Afghans to the country for processing before they are finally resettled in the continental US.

Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio and her closest political ally, Sen. Imee Marcos, have been opposing the transit of Afghans, who had served under the US government before the Taliban took over, citing security concerns.

A security expert even warned that the Taliban government in Afghanistan could retaliate against Filipinos in the Middle East should Manila allow the transit of Afghan nationals in the country.

No one exactly knows how the Taliban would react. The security fears might be unfounded but the real concern is why would Washington fly 50,000 to 80,000 Afghans to process their permanent resettlement to the US in a country thousands of miles from their origin.

The United States has many friends in the Middle East, closer to Afghanistan, where it could process the resettlement of thousands of Afghan nationals.

For instance, the US has military bases in Saudi Arabia and in Qatar, both Muslim countries, which can handle Afghan nationals who are also Muslims.

The US can also bring in the Afghan nationals to neighboring Pakistan with which Washington also has good relations.

It is really mind-boggling why the US has to process these Afghan nationals in the Philippines.

President Ferdinand Marcios Jr has not really decided on the US request to bring the Afghan nationals to the Philippines.

The Department of Foreign Affairs continues to hold talks with the US State Department for the transit of Afghan nationals.

Even if the United States will shoulder the costs of temporarily hosting the Afghan nationals in the Philippines, it will be a logistical nightmare.

Manila has to look for an ideal place as a holding area for processing the Afghan nationals. It also has to secure the location to prevent these Afghan nationals from slipping out and creating a security problem.

It is not clear, other than goodwill, what political and economic benefits the Philippines will get from hosting temporarily tens of thousands of Afghan nationals in its territory.

True, the Philippines has had experiences in handling refugees in the past, but these people came from the same region – Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians – escaping Communist regimes after the fall of Saigon in 1975.

But the Afghan nationals came from thousands of miles away and there is no clear reason why they should be processed in the Philippines.

Perhaps, the United States wanted to show to the world that it has a tight control of the Philippines under its sphere of influence.