Image Credit: pco.gov.ph/gmanetwork.com
The Palace on Monday identified four new bases—one near the hotly disputed South China Sea and another near Taiwan–where American troops and weapons could be temporarily stationed under a treaty between the Philippines and the United States.
These sites, covered by the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), are the Naval Base Camilo Osias in Sta Ana, Cagayan; Lal-lo Airport in Lal-lo, Cagayan; Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela, and Balabac Island in Palawan.
The US and the Philippines agreed in February to expand cooperation in “strategic areas” of the country as they seek to counter China’s growing assertiveness over self-governed Taiwan and its aggression in the South China Sea.
Last month, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said that Filipino and American officials had already identified and agreed on the four new military sites and would make a formal announcement soon.
The four extra EDCA sites will be scattered around the Philippines, but the main goal is to defend the country’s eastern coast, the President said.
To overcome opposition from some local government units (LGUs) not keen on hosting US forces and equipment, the President said he talked to local officials from these areas and explained the importance of the EDCA sites in their jurisdictions.
Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson Arsenio Andolong earlier said the EDCA sites would not be American military bases.
The sites mentioned, he said, would be used as storage and warehouse facilities for military logistics.
In February, President Marcos granted US troops access to four more Philippine military camps on top of the five existing locations under the EDCA.
Filipino and American troops are also scheduled to hold their largest-ever military exercise this April.
US troops are already conducting live-firing drills using their High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and AT-4 anti-tank weapons together with the Philippine Army troops in Fort Magsaysay in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija.
The Pentagon announced that the United States and the Philippines have agreed to review the full range of their maritime cooperation in the 2 + 2 meeting in Washington this month.
Defense Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said he was instructed by the President to immediately start the construction of the new sites, but they are still waiting for proper budget allocations from both sides, and for the United States to make the necessary recommendations.
Galvez said that selected areas are significant and very strategic, especially the areas near the hotly contested West Philippine Sea and the country’s trade route.
The new EDCA locations will also be used for faster deployment during disasters due to their placement on the outside portion of the country.
Galvez said the selected sites were collectively decided and agreed upon by both parties and not requested by the United States.
Asked about reports that Subic was eyed as the fifth EDCA site, Galvez said “political sensitivities” in the area forced them to remove it.
A formal announcement on EDCA sites will come from the Defense Department, Galvez said.
Three of the sites are in the northern Philippines, including a naval base and airport in Cagayan province and an army camp in the neighboring province of Isabela, the Palace statement said.
The naval base at Cagayan province’s Santa Ana is about 400 kilometers from Taiwan.
Another site will be on Balabac Island, off the southern tip of Palawan Island, near the South China Sea.
Cagayan Gov. 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.
But Galvez told reporters recently the government had “already decided” on the sites and that Mamba had agreed to “abide with the decision.”
EDCA allows US troops to rotate through the bases and also store defense equipment and supplies at them.
The pact stalled under former president Rodrigo Duterte, who favored China over the country’s former colonial master.
But Marcos, 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.”
The Chinese embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
— Vince Lopez and Charles Dantes with AFP
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