US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson said she does not see the designation of new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites in the country as a magnet for conflict.
In a report on "24 Oras" by Maki Pulido, the US envoy said the new sites will instead enhance the security of the concerned local governments and usher in activities that could boost their local economies.
"I don’t see the EDSA sites as a magnet for that and in fact I see EDCA sites are a way for provincial authorities local authorities to enhance their ability not only to defend themselves from a security perspective but to grow their economies," Carlson said in the second part of GMA's exclusive interview which first aired Friday.
The agreement gives US troops access to four more bases in strategic areas of the country to allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in Manila and to respond to other shared challenges.
The Department of National Defense has yet to announce the exact location of the new EDCA areas.
On Friday, Carlson announced the groundbreaking on March 20 of a $24-million airstrip extension project at the Basa Airbase in Pampanga, one of the existing EDCA sites.
During the interview, Carlson discussed the importance of the alliance between the Philippines and the United States, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, the South China Sea issue, and joint patrols in the area.
On Sunday, the Chinese Embassy issued a statement saying the US was dragging the Philippines into its issues with China by establishing additional military sites in the country, which may “seriously harm” the Philippines’ national interests as well as regional peace and stability.
“Peace and development remain the theme of this era and the call of peoples around the world. However, the US, to secure its hegemony and selfish geopolitical interests and out of the cold-war mentality, keeps upgrading military cooperation with the Philippines by adding EDCA bases and military deployment in this country,” the Embassy had said.
“To bundle the Philippines into the chariot of geopolitical strife will seriously harm Philippine national interests and endanger regional peace and stability,” it added.
It likewise said there is “no problem of freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea (SCS) and that the US military only came to the region “to stir up trouble” in the highly-disputed waters.
“By doing these, the US has not only heightened tension, driven a wedge between China and the Philippines but also has disturbed and upset the joint effort of the countries in this region to safeguard peace and stability in the SCS,” the Embassy said.
Signed in 2014, EDCA grants US troops access to designated Philippine military facilities, the right to construct facilities, and preposition equipment, aircraft, and vessels, but rules out permanent basing. The Philippine Constitution outlaws foreign military bases in the country unless covered by a treaty.
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.—Sundy Locus/LDF, GMA Integrated News