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US may seek access to more Philippine bases under EDCA, admiral says

The United States may seek access to more military bases in the Philippines under a joint defense agreement between the two countries, the chief of the US Indo-Pacific command said on Thursday.

The Philippines has this year increased the number of bases accessible to the US military from five to nine, a move that has riled regional power China, which sees the arrangement as provocative and likely to raise tensions.

Admiral John Aquilino said he and the Philippines' military chief, General Romeo Brawner Jr., had discussed further expanding the number of bases US forces could access under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

"General Brawner and I made recommendations to our senior leaders for the consideration of additional sites, but there's still work to do there," Aquilino said, stressing that the US was operating in the country at the invitation of the Philippines.

Aquilino added that they are in discussion about the possible more EDCA sites but it is still subject for the approval of their "bosses."

"As it applies to other sites, I'm gonna leave that to my partner. We are in discussions but everyone has a boss and we both have bosses," he said.

"So we'll have those conversations I think in private and give our bosses some decision space on how they'd like to go forward," he added.

For the already approved EDCA sites, Aquilino said they added 63 projects to the 32 existing projects. He added that the US identified investments of almost $110 million for these.

Strong alliance, improved PH defense capability

The closer US defense ties with the Philippines after a period of decline has caused concern in China that Washington has Taiwan in mind in its efforts to boost its military presence in the region.

The United States says it intends to bolster an already strong alliance and improve the defense capability of the Philippines.

Brawner said the purpose of EDCA was training exercises and humanitarian and disaster response, key planks of a decades-old alliance between the two countries, and not related to regional security threats.

"All of this joint operations, even the selection of our EDCA sites, has nothing to do with the other countries in the Indo- Pacific region, meaning the threats that could come out from these countries," he said.

Brawner is also optimistic that more projects in EDCA sites with the United States will be operational next year.

"We're also very happy that we saw the development of the EDCA sites. We went all the way to Lal-lo in Cagayan and Sta. Ana and this time we're here in Basa Air Base. We're also very happy at the rate that the development of these EDCA projects have been going," he said.

"We're very optimistic that for next year, we will have more of these projects operational so that we can work on our joint exercises right away and also our joint operations," he added.

Aquilino also said the two countries were seeking to complete an agreement on boosting their intelligence sharing. — Reuters with Joviland Rita/RSJ, GMA Integrated News