US Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently trumpeted "America's dedication to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Philippines," but it seems several US troops got a little too close to a group of off-duty Filipino cops earlier this month at a pole-dancing club in the city of Puerto Princesa.
Ahead of a visit by Carter to the Philippines on Wednesday to mark a new defense agreement between the two countries, surveillance footage emerged of a bar brawl that saw a Filipino police officer brandish a pistol and US servicemen aggressively shove several women.
The melee occurred on April 2 at Bavaria Club-54 KTV BAR and Restaurant, a nightclub on Palawan Island in the western Philippines that advertises "pole dancing every night." Video footage of the incident was obtained by a local news station in the Philippines and released on Tuesday.
The incident begins after a US serviceman taps the top of a beer bottle that was parked in front of a Filipino cop, who was slumped over the table, apparently drunk. As beer overflows from the bottle, a second officer can be seen standing up and apparently reprimanding the American. The exchange escalates, and one of the cops eventually pulls out a pistol. Several visibly intoxicated US servicemen can also be seen pushing away women at the club as they try to intervene. The action starts at around the 4-minute mark in the video below.
The US troops involved in the brawl were apparently in the Philippines for Balikatan 2016, an annual military training exercise that kicked off on April 4. A US Army spokesperson told VICE News that "none of the individuals involved in this are members of the US Army... all of our personnel were accounted for and were not present in the area." The US military affiliation of the servicemen is unclear.
Last year, the US Pacific Command banned American troops from visiting bars and nightclubs in the Philippines during the joint military exercises after a US Marine was accused of murdering a transgender Filipina woman that he met in a bar. The Marine, Joseph Scott Pemberton, was ultimately convicted of Jennifer Laude, who was found dead in a motel room in October 2014 after apparently being drowned in a toilet bowl. After the incident, US soldiers were given a strict 10pm curfew and permitted to only eat their meals "in the vicinity of their place of dwelling."
After the recent bar brawl, a US military spokesperson said in a statement that "any potential misconduct of US service members is completely unacceptable." The spokesperson added that the incident would be "dealt with," and that the military "demands high standards of conduct from service members at all times."
Philippine military spokesman Captain Celeste Frank Sayson said that the brawl was triggered by a simple misunderstanding, and that the problem was resolved "amicably." He added that the incident would not impact the Balikatan military exercise.
This year's event comes at a particularly tense time in the region, amid an ongoing dispute between China and the Philippines over territory in the South China Sea. Despite maintaining a strong alliance with the Philippines, the US has not taken a position on which country is the rightful owner of the disputed territory.
While seeking to avoid escalating the conflict, the US has warned China not to "elbow aside" other countries in the South China Sea, and President Barack Obama has stressed that US commitment to the Philippines is "ironclad."
Carter's visit to the Philippines on Wednesday follows the recent ratification of a new agreement to bolster military cooperation between the two countries, and includes funding to open five new military bases on Philippine soil. In a speech ahead of his trip, Carter described the alliance between the two countries as "a cornerstone of peace and stability in the region," and said the relationship is "as close as it has been in many years."
A former US colony, the Philippines gained independence after World War II in 1946. The US continued to operate major military bases in the Philippines until 1992. The new agreement between the two countries would reinstate those bases.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story identified the US military personnel involved in the brawl as soldiers. A US Army spokesman noted that the term soldier typically refers to members of the Army, and, after investigating, the Army confirmed that all of its personnel "were accounted for and were not present in the area."Watch the VICE News documentary Crystal Meth and Cartels in the Philippines: The Shabu Trap: