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Philippines, US designate 4 new EDCA sites

The Philippines and the United States have agreed to designate four new sites in strategic areas of the country with the aim of accelerating the full implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). 

According to the Department of National Defense (DND) on Thursday, these new EDCA locations will allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines, and respond to other shared challenges. 

“Today, the Philippines and the United States are proud to announce their plans to accelerate the full implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the full agreement to designate four (4) new Agreed Locations in strategic areas of the country and the substantial completion of the projects in the existing five Agreed Locations,” the DND said in a statement.

At a joint press conference shortly after his meeting with visiting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III, DND chief Carlito Galvez Jr. said he cannot name yet the locations of the four new EDCA sites because of ongoing negotiations with the Department of the Interior and Local Government, local government units, and communities.

“We have agreed that the statement of the sites will be concluded once we have already made collaboration also with local communities. When we make announcement, we need the local government, governors, and local communities to be consulted,” Galvez said.

Galvez said the areas identified are “very vulnerable to climate change.”

“We also wanted to see these agreements of the four EDCA sites will be finished soon. Considering we are making some inspection on how we will do things particularly that there areas identified are very vulnerable to climate change,” he said. 

No permanent bases in the Philippines

For his part, Austin clarified that the US is not seeking to establish permanent bases in the Philippines.

“I just want to be clear that we are not seeking permanent basing in the Philippines. As you heard us saying in our statements here, EDCA is a cooperative agreement that enables rotational activities,” Austin said.

“EDCA is not about permanent basing here in the Philippines,” he added.

Galvez also clarified that the new facilities should be called EDCA sites and not bases.

“I think we have to remove the word bases because we called it EDCA sites," he said.

Signed in 2014, EDCA grants US troops access to designated Philippine military facilities, the right to construct facilities, and pre-position equipment, aircraft and vessels, but rules out permanent basing. The Philippine Constitution outlaws foreign military bases in the country unless covered by a treaty.

According to the DND, the Philippines and the US also committed to moving quickly to agree on the necessary plans and investments for the new and existing EDCA locations.

So far, the US has allocated over $82 million toward infrastructure investments at the existing five sites under the EDCA. 

The initial five predetermined sites are located in Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan - near the disputed South China Sea - Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City.

Meanwhile, progressive group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) opposed Austin’s visit and said the EDCA may result in the return of US military bases in the Philippines.

“In essence, the EDCA signals the return of US bases in the Philippines,” said KMU, which conducted a protest action outside the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters during the defense chiefs’ meeting.

The development comes as the countries seek to repair ties that were fractured in recent years—previous Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte favored China over the US.

Austin also met separately with President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. in Malacañang, where he vowed to assist the Philippine defense sector in modernizing its capabilities and increasing the interoperability between Filipino and American troops.

“From defense perspective, we will continue to work together with our great partners and to build and modernize your capabilities as well as increase our interoperability,” Austin told Marcos during the meeting.

Marcos said that the future of the Philippines will always involve the US, noting that Washington has always been the Philippines’ longest partner and ally. —Vince Lopez, Joviland Rita, with Agence France-Presse/KBK/VBL/RSJ, GMA Integrated News