4 new EDCA sites for American troops not yet identified; EDCA not meant for war, says Defense Chief

CAMP AGUINALDO, Quezon City – The Department of National Defense (DND)  has clarified to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that the four new Philippines – United States (US) Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites have yet to be identified and announced.

This was after Senator Maria Imelda Imee Marcos, chairperson of the committee, said that news had stated the four new EDCA sites would be established in the provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, and Zambales.

“The four sites are still in negotiations. We might change the locations depending on the agreement that we might be having with the security sector,” Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. told the Senate committee. “When we had the agreement to have the four EDCA sites, we just agreed on the numbers, not on the actual sites.”

When asked about the criteria on choosing a site, Galvez said it should primarily cater to the bilateral exercises between the Philippines and the US and could also be used as a contingency on the country’s defense mechanism.

“If you look at the different EDCA sites that we had, these are logistics based wherein when we have the Balikatan exercises, which are usually done in Luzon, we normally deploy our troops in these areas,” he said.

Marcos, including the local government units in Northern Luzon, are questioning the new EDCA sites, saying their provinces could not afford to be involved in the tensions between the United States (US) and China.

Cagayan Governor Manny Mamba, who was virtually present during the hearing, quoted President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. who said in the face of regional tensions, “the solutions are not going to be military. If they are going to be military, then they are not solutions because it will end badly if it goes that way. It will end badly to those involved and even to those who are not involved.”

“I agree with the President 100 percent. Nobody, no one wins in war. The solutions to the regional tensions is not military. The solutions to the regional tensions will only end badly for us who are not involved in this show of might between two superpowers. The only military forces we want in Cagayan are members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP),” Mamba said.

The governor also confirmed that he has not yet been formally informed by anyone about having an EDCA site in Cagayan.

Senator Marcos said her concern, which is shared by Mamba, Ilocos Norte Governor Matthew Manotoc, and other local officials, is that Northern Luzon seems to have been chosen already by both the US and the AFP as the new EDCA sites.

Galvez said it is not “necessarily” for EDCA, but for Balikatan exercises.

The AFP reported that as of March 1, 2023, there are 21 existing EDCA projects in five sites located in the Philippines in which five were already completed, nine are still ongoing, and seven have yet to start.

The EDCA was concluded on April 28, 2014 and its constitutionality was upheld by the Supreme Court on Jan. 12, 2016.

Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said EDCA is a key pillar of the Philippine-US alliance, which supports combined training, exercises, and inter-operability between the Philippine and the US forces.

The Philippines’ Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States is aimed at improving the country’s defensive capabilities and is not meant for war, Galvez said.

In a statement, Galvez Jr. emphasized that the bilateral agreement does not seek to interfere with the domestic affairs of other nations.

“The geopolitical situation is becoming more precarious by the day. Our projects under EDCA and our other defense partnerships are not intended for aggression. We are not preparing for war, rather we are aiming to develop our defense capabilities against eventualities and threats to our security,” he added.

Galvez also stressed that projects under EDCA are geared towards enhancing facility readiness of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as part of its modernization efforts to speed up external defense development.

“As the Commander-in-Chief, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. directed the AFP recently, we are shifting our focus towards territorial defense, especially in the West Philippine Sea (WPS),” the DND chief added.

Previous military engagements and exercises with Philippines allies used to focus on internal security operations. “Now, we are eyeing to strengthen our abilities to respond to external threats that may arise along our border-areas,” Galvez said.

He also added that the DND is aiming to achieve an optimal number and locations of the EDCA sites to maximize their coverage of the Philippine archipelago.

“We understand the apprehensions expressed by our local chief executives about EDCA and our bilateral exercises. However, we must consider the volatile situation in which we operate and not view our country in isolation,” Galvez added.

“The Philippines straddles a crucial location in the Pacific, and we have seaboards to the north, south, east and west. All of these must be monitored and protected,” he said.

Last month, the DND announced that Manila and Washington D.C. agreed to designate four new EDCA “agreed locations”.

EDCA, along with the Visiting Forces Agreement, operationalizes the 1951 PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). It was signed in 2014 but its implementation was delayed due to various reasons.

“EDCA was met with legal challenges, but the Supreme Court eventually upheld its constitutionality in 2016. Coupled with other technical issues, which have since been resolved, and the restrictions brought by the pandemic, the implementation of the projects under EDCA was delayed for many years,” Galvez explained.

He also added that the identification of new sites for additional EDCA “Agreed Locations” is actually long overdue. Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) shared that projects under EDCA are being prioritized and funded by the US side.

“To date, the United States has allotted and committed a total of US$82.68 million to complete all of these projects,” DFA Secretary Enrique A. Manalo said during the Senate Committee Hearing on Foreign Relations on March 1.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *