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Imee Marcos confronts Galvez on reported EDCA sites near Taiwan Strait

Senate foreign relations committee chairperson Imee Marcos on Wednesday confronted officials on the reported establishment of four Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites in Northern Luzon near the Taiwan Strait.

"Are we talking about the escalating tensions in the Taiwan Strait as the number one issue?" Marcos asked at a Senate briefing on the new EDCA sites.

According to Marcos, two new EDCA sites will be established in Cagayan, one in Isabela, and in Zambales.

"It clearly indicates that this is the first line in the Taiwan attacks that are projected. Is that correct?" Marcos asked Defense officer-in-charge Carlito Galvez Jr.

"I just need to understand why are you choosing all these sites in Northern Luzon when in fact if it were West Philippine Sea deterrence that were uppermost in our minds, the protection of our territorial sovereignty, surely it should be in the western sector not purely in the northern," Marcos went on.

In response, Galvez said the four sites are still in negotiation.

"We might change the locations depending on the agreement that we are having in the security sector," he said.

When asked to confirm the four new EDCA sites in Northern Luzon, Galvez said "it is still unidentified location."

During the discussion on the new EDCA sites, Galvez said they just agreed on the numbers and not on the actual sites.

When they came up with the number of new EDCA sites, Galvez said they need to follow some criteria, such as sites that can cater to Balikatan exercises.

But Marcos is not satisfied with Galvez's explanation.

"Nag-shift na po ba tayo at hindi na yung territorial integrity kundi yung escalation ng tension sa Taiwan Straits ang ating tinutumbok nito?" Marcos asked.

Galvez said he cannot categorically answer the question.

At the latter part of the hearing, Marcos also noted that the Balikatan exercises "suddenly shifted" to Northern Luzon.

"Gentlemen, what is our fight with Taiwan? What is our fight  with Taiwan? I don't understand. So why are we doing all the military exercises in Northern Luzon-- a stone's throw or at least a boat ride away from Taiwan," Marcos said.

"Then clearly, the new expanded EDCA is addressing the escalation of tensions in the Taiwan Straits, not Philippine interest  in the West Philippine Sea. We are therefore going to fight for another country, the United States? Is that correct, sir?" she went on.

Galvez said they look at the totality of the country's complete preparedness to collective defense and disasters considering that the Philippines is the most vulnerable in climate change.

He further explained that the Balikatan exercises are being done annually and rotationally in different regions.

"The reason why we choose the northern part for Balikatan exercises because...our preparation for disaster is very significant considering that we have seen a lot of typhoons, a lot of flooding, a lot of earthquakes happening in the country," he said.

In the same hearing, Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba reiterated his opposition to the possible creation of EDCA sites in the province.

Mamba said the Armed Forces of the Philippines provides an efficient disaster responses to areas in need.

"Please do not ram into our throats what is not acceptable to us because binobola-bola lang po tayo e. Hindi na po totoo ito," Mamba said.

"China never invaded us, never conquered us. Wala kaming problema sa kanila. Sa totoo lang they are very helpful. I never sought their help during disasters but China came in yung federation of Chinese Chamber nagpapadala ng rice.. During our disaster, they are our neighbors. Please, do not let us tell them that they are our enemies because of the United States of America. Let them have their own war but we can never be an enemy to our neighbor," Mamba said.—LDF, GMA Integrated News