Should the Philippine government seek more compensation from the US for allowing the latter access to military bases here under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA?
Two senators of late — Ronald de la Rosa and Francis Escudero — have spoken up, contending that yes, if the US pays other countries that host an American presence in their bases, why shouldn’t the Philippines do the same?
And why not, indeed, particularly if such compensation would help in, say, salving the administration’s headache in looking for funds to augment the pension of Filipino military and uniformed personnel or MUP?
Arguing that the US customarily provides not only military but financial assistance particularly to host countries of strategic importance to the US in the region, Escudero suggests that perhaps a resolution could be filed urging the Senate to amend the Visiting Forces Agreement and EDCA to demand compensation from the US government for its troops gaining entry to nine Philippine military bases in various parts of the country.
To recall, EDCA was signed nine years ago during the term of US President Barack Obama, giving American troops rotational access, i.e., temporary, basis to Philippine military bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and building of facilities, including runways, fuel storage tanks and housing for uniformed personnel.
From an original five, four bases were added when Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. ascended to the presidency in 2022 — Camilo Osias naval base and Lal-lo airport in Cagayan province, Camp Melchor de la Cruz in Isabela province, and Balabac Island off Palawan.
The five original bases are Cesar Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay military reservation straddling Nueva Ecija and Aurora provinces, Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, and Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mactan.
Over $100 million has been earmarked by the US to upgrade these military bases.
The amount includes $18 million that the US will add to the $82 million originally pledged for the five initial bases under EDCA.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, who was present at the US-Philippines 2+2 ministerial talks in Washington D.C. last April when the $18 million supplemental funding was declared, said significant progress has been made in eight of 16 projects approved for the initial five EDCA bases, with six estimated for completion by yearend.
These include the $25-million runway rehabilitation at Basa Air Base, along with a storage facility at Mactan Air Base and a Humanitarian Disaster Relief warehouse in Fort Magsaysay.
These aren’t enough, where proponents for bigger payments from the US for risks that have grown with increased access to Philippine military bases are concerned.
“The possibility of the country getting dragged into the China-Taiwan conflict resulting from an expansion of the EDCA is a considerable risk that the Philippine government has to consider,” warned Lucio Blanco Pito III, a research analyst with the think tank, Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation.
It might not minimize the risk, but a bigger amount as compensation from the US could ease particular opposition to EDCA in some frontline provinces, Pitlo said, citing concerns by some LGU heads who are anxious that the EDCA expansion could turn off Chinese investments.
He said other Central Pacific island states like Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Micronesia are “negotiating hard” with the Americans who are attempting to regain military access in those places.
For instance, there is the case of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site at the US Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll for which the US government is said to have paid a $4 billion grant for the 20-year extension of its Compact of Free Association Agreement with the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
“An $82-million outlay for the original five Philippine military bases and an additional $18 million for four new ones under the EDCA is a drop in the bucket compared to what tiny Pacific atoll nations are getting,” Pitlo pointed out.
According to Pitlo, this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, but the point here is whether or not the compensation that the country is getting is commensurate with the risks being taken on by allowing US troops entry into Philippine military bases, and whether or not there is even an attempt to offer such reasonable rewards at all.
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