The Philippines and the United States will soon announce the location of four additional military bases that American soldiers will be allowed to use, officials said Monday.
The longtime treaty allies agreed last month to expand cooperation in “strategic areas” of the country as they seek to counter China’s growing assertiveness over Taiwan and its building of bases in the South China Sea.
As this developed, foreign affairs and defense officials of the Philippines and the United States will hold a high-level “2+2” meeting in Washington next month to further strengthen political and military engagement.
Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez said Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo and Defense officer-in-charge Carlito Galvez Jr. will meet US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin for a ministerial meeting — the first under the Marcos administration.
“The 2+2 is scheduled sometime in the middle of April,” Romualdez said at the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines forum in Makati City.
The Filipino envoy admitted that the agenda will likely include recent developments in the South China Sea, where a series of Chinese harassment of Philippine Coast Guard crew and fishermen have been reported.
The Department of Foreign Affairs this month protested the Chinese Coast Guard’s pointing of a military-grade laser at a passing PCG supply vessel near Ayungin Shoal on Feb. 6.
Galvez, for his part, said the government had “already decided” on the sites.
“The two countries will announce (the locations) as soon as they can,” said US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall at a joint press conference with Galvez and other officials.
Galvez and Kendall were at Basa Air Base, north of Manila, where the United States is investing $24 million in upgrading the 2.8 kilometer runway.
Basa is one of the five bases originally included in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
The 2014 agreement gave US forces access to five bases in the Philippines. It has been expanded to nine, but the locations of the four additional bases have not been revealed as the government consults with local officials.
It has been widely reported that two of the sites will be in the northern province of Cagayan, less than 400 kilometers (250 miles) from self-ruled Taiwan, which China sees as part of its territory.
Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba has publicly opposed having EDCA sites in his province for fear of jeopardizing Chinese investment and becoming a target in a conflict over Taiwan. With AFP
The agreement allows US troops to rotate through the bases and store defense equipment and supplies at them.
The pact stalled under former president Rodrigo Duterte, who favored China over the US.
But President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who succeeded Duterte last June, has adopted a more US-friendly foreign policy and has sought to accelerate the implementation of the EDCA.
Beijing has been critical of the agreement, which its embassy in the Philippines said recently was part of “US efforts to encircle and contain China through its military alliance with this country.”
But Kendall said it was for the “good of the region.”
“The defense treaty with the Philippines… is about mutual protection and peace and security in the region in general,” Kendall said.
Meanwhile, Filipino and American troops participating in this year’s “Salaknib” exercises are set to join a rocket system live fire exercise at Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija on April 1.
“(Army Artillery Regiment) AAR’s (Multi-Launch Rocket System) MLRS Battery personnel and their US counterparts are set to conduct a rocket system live-fire exercise on April 1, 2023, at the regiment’s long-range precision firing exercise area in Fort Magsaysay,” Philippine Army spokesperson Col. Xerxes Trinidad said in a statement.
“Salaknib” is an Army-to-Army training program between the PA and US Army Pacific that began on March 13 and will end on April 4.
The ongoing exercises involve around 3,000 soldiers from USARPAC’s 25th Infantry Division and PA’s 5th Infantry Division, 7th Infantry Division, and 1st Brigade Combat Team training side by side in a spectrum of military operations.
The exercise’s second phase is slated for the second semester of the year.
— Rey E. Requejo and Charles Dantes with AFP
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