MANILA, Philippines — The United States plans to allocate $70 million, or nearly 4 billion pesos, over the next two years to implement the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a key military agreement that would allow Washington to build facilities and pre-position assets at certain strategically located military bases in the country.
The agreement signed in 2014 – designed to deal with Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and respond to natural disasters – will finally make major progress after facing delays under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, who had expressed to repeatedly his contempt for the United States since he took office in 2016.
“These enhancements are designed to enhance cooperative defense capabilities and support humanitarian disaster assistance activities, in a way that best meets AFP’s needs. [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and the alliance,” U.S. Ambassador MaryKay Carlson said at a forum on Wednesday.
The EDCA, she said, is “another way to operationalize” the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which obligates the two countries to defend each other in the event of an armed attack. Prepositioned assets and weapons will allow the United States and the Philippines to respond quickly in the event of a disaster or crisis.
The two treaty allies have recently seen “new energy and renewed confidence” under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who reaffirmed ties with Washington, marking a departure from his predecessor who sought favor with China and the Russia.
Acting Defense Secretary Jose Faustino Jr. said they had made “some progress” at three of the five pre-determined EDCA sites – Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, which is closest to the island group from Kalayaan in the Western Philippine Sea; Basa Air Base in Pampanga, home of the Philippine Air Force’s combat aircraft; and Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, the country’s largest military camp and a frequent location for Filipino-American military exercises.
The other two areas are Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City.
Both parties want to explore other EDCA sites “that will build a more credible posture,” Faustino said.
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“The EDCA is an important example of how we can offer implementation details of the treaties we have entered into … as well as the prepositioning of hardware that contributes to the modernization of AFP to enable greater interoperability, capability, development and modernization between our defense forces,” Faustino said.
In late September, Faustino met with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Hawaii amid tensions in Taiwan and the South China Sea to discuss various ways to increase defense cooperation, including EDCA.
In the same forum, Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo said the Philippines relies on the United States “to help us defend our sovereignty, our sovereign rights and our jurisdiction in the Western Philippine Sea or the South China Sea. , which are grounded in international law, and also pursue to defuse tensions while promoting a law-based international order in the region”.
Faustino said the Philippine-American alliance “makes an important contribution to our efforts to develop our own capabilities, as well as to regional peace and stability, which is an essential component of the national interest of the Philippines.”
In addition to the EDCA, he said they are also prioritizing the conclusion of a General Military Information Security Agreement, which will set out the terms for the protection of classified military information “in the hope that this will streamline the technology transfer for our required capabilities and will ultimately improve our interoperability.
The Philippines and the United States will also hold a bilateral strategic dialogue and a “2+2 dialogue” of senior foreign affairs and defense officials in the coming months.
“These meetings represent important opportunities to reiterate our shared vision for the alliance and provide a platform to explore ways to modernize the alliance to meet today’s complex challenges to our regional security interests,” according to Carlson.
The EDCA was signed in April 2014, literally hours before then US President Barack Obama arrived for a visit to Manila.
The constitutionality of the EDCA was challenged in the Supreme Court, but it was declared constitutional in 2016 by the High Court, which defined it as an executive agreement to implement existing treaties between the Philippines and the states. together to strengthen defense and security cooperation.
The security pact grants the United States greater access to Philippine military bases, including the construction of facilities and the storage of defense supplies.
In January 2019, then-Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana and then-US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim inaugurated a warehouse, the first facility under EDCA, at Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga, to house equipment for use in humanitarian aid and disasters. relief missions.
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