Manila: The USS Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Manila on Wednesday, the second American aircraft carrier to visit the country in as many months as the Philippine maritime crossroads plays an increasingly important role in the region’s security.

The nuclear-powered capital ship, which is part of the Okinawa, Japan-based US 7th Fleet, was escorted by the guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill. Earlier last March, the USS Carl Vinson patrolled the waters of the South China Sea.

As had been customary to US ship commanders visiting the Philippines, Adm. Steve Koehler underscored the important ties between the two countries.

“The Philippines has long been a part of US Navy history, and we look forward to continuing that valued relationship and partnership,” Koehler, the commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 9, was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the US Embassy in Manila.

US Navy ships had once sailed the waters of the Philippines at will.

The country was once a colony of America from the early 1900s until 1935 when the Philippines became part of the American Commonwealth.

From 1998, US military and overall American presence in the Philippines had transcended from a status of a virtual vassal state to that of co-equals.

Under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, the leader said he was determined to unshackle the country from overdependence on the US for security.

During the port visit, sailors and marines will participate in cultural exchanges, community relations events, and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR)-sponsored tours to enhance cultural understanding and cooperation between the two countries.

While the presence of the USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Bunker Hill had been viewed as a gesture of continued American support to the security of the Philippines, for some Filipinos aboard the ship, it was an opportunity to visit their family.

“There are several Rough Riders who are from the Philippines or who have family in the country. We are excited for them to be able to share their culture with fellow shipmates and spend time with loved ones there,” Capt. Carlos Sardiello, Theodore Roosevelt’s commanding officer. “

Rough Riders refers to sailors, marines and officers serving aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt; they take their name from a famed regiment led by Roosevelt, a famed cavalry officer who fought during the Spanish-American War of 1898.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt is the flagship of the carrier strike group that will continue on their regularly scheduled Western Pacific deployment.

Aside from the carrier visits, the US forces will also hold their regular “Balikatan” (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) joint exercises with the Philippines next month.

Alongside force readiness exercises, forces from the two countries will jointly hold humanitarian and civic activities in the Cagayan and Central Luzon regions.

The drills are being conducted amid an increasingly aggressive China, which had established fortified and weaponised outposts in the South China Sea. Several years ago, Beijing had embarked on a massive reclamation of outlying islands in the South China Sea and had built defensive structures that could serve as picket lines controlling the entry and egress of commercial and military vessels in the vital area, which is considered as international sealanes.