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Cagayan governor opposes possible hosting of EDCA sites

Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba on Monday said he is not keen on having an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) site be established in his province.

This came after the Department of National Defense’s (DND) announcement of a deal that gave US troops access to four more bases in strategic areas of the country, with the aim of accelerating the full implementation of the EDCA.

While DND has yet to name the locations of these new EDCA sites, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in November 2022 mentioned two sites in Cagayan, and one each in Palawan, Zambales, and Isabela where the additional joint military facilities with the United States could be built.

Mamba said he is not yet being officially informed about the matter, but believes that Cagayanon would also oppose it.

“Ako, I’ve not really consulted ‘yung constituents ko. Pero ako, it's not welcome. Well, any foreign, sa akin, any foreign forces or foreign bases staying in our country, especially kung nuclear power sila, will always be a magnet also for nuclear power attack. We can’t afford to be ganon,” he said in a Super Radyo dzBB interview.

(I've not really consulted my constituents yet. But for me, it's not welcome. To me, any foreign forces or foreign bases staying in our country, especially if they have a nuclear power, will always be a magnet also for nuclear power attack. We can't afford to be like that.)

“Kami, we are willing to die in field for our country and our province, but not with these foreign [people]. Why should we fight their battles and their wars?” he added.

The DND said on Thursday that the new EDCA locations will allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines, and respond to other shared challenges.

However, Mamba said he does not believe that the new EDCA sites would only be purely used for that purpose.

“Hindi po totoo. Kung Amerikano lang ang sasabihin, we already had two super typhoons… wala akong nakitang Amerikano na tumulong. Kayang kaya naman natin ‘yang disaster na ‘yan by ourselves,” he said.

(That’s not true. If we’re talking about Americans, we already had two super typhoons... I didn't see any of them who helped us. We can handle disaster efforts by ourselves.)

In a separate statement, Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez backed more EDCA sites, including on Pag-asa island.

“I support that decision. It is in our national interest to pursue and expand our defense partnership with the United States to deter further aggression from China in the West Philippine Sea and possible Chinese seizure of islets that belong to us under International law. ore sites along our western seaboard, where Chinese aggression and harassment of our fishermen have been taking place, should be covered,” Rodriguez said.

“We have an airstrip there [on Pag-asa island]. The DND is also building a small port. We could ask our US counterparts to improve those facilities,” he added.

The five current EDCA locations are Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, 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.

Likewise, Rodriguez said free ports in Subic, Zambales and Clark in Angeles City, Pampanga, which are former US military bases, should be part of EDCA training-exercises and humanitarian activities.

“The presence of the US in the former US Navy base in Subic could deter Chinese Coast Guard and military vessels from driving away our fishermen from their traditional fishing grounds in Scarborough or Panatag Shoal, or Bajo de Masinloc, which is near Zambales and Pangasinan,” he 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.

Meanwhile, in a report on "24 Oras," the military’s Northern Luzon Command said it would continue to monitor the airspace of the area following the sighting of a flying object in Baguio and Pangasinan in December last year.

“Nagkaroon po ng pag-iimbestiga at pagtatanong at pag-identify sa nasabing flying object … hindi na-establish kung ano yun,” Lieutenant Colonel Elmar Salvador, Northern Luzon Command spokesperson, said.

The country’s weather bureau, PAGASA, said the object could possibly be a weather balloon.

“As of January of this year wala po tayong reported sighting of the same flying object po na na-observe ng ating mga kababayan noong December” Commodore Philip Soria, district commander of North Western Luzon, said.

Over the weekend, Reuters reported that a United States (US) military plane shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina, a week after it first entered US airspace and triggered a dramatic -- and public -- spying saga that worsened Sino-U.S. relations.

Chona said the object in the sky was not a spy balloon, but a "civilian meteorological airship" that it uses for research.— With Llanesca T. Panti/AOL/RSJ, GMA Integrated News