By Claire Morales True, Managing Editor
WASHINGTON/MANILA –The Philippines and United States have identified five more areas in critical areas near the West Philippine Sea where new facilities will be built to improve both countries’ joint trainings, disaster and crisis response capabilities under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
This was disclosed by Department of National Defense (DND) Officer-in-Charge Undersecretary Jose Faustino Jr. on Nov. 14 saying that the new proposed EDCA sites will be an addition to the five previously approved sites that are now undergoing construction.
Two of the new target sites will be built in Cagayan, and one each in Palawan, Zambales, and Isabela once they are formally approved by both the Philippines and US authorities, according to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Lt. Gen. Bartolome Vicente Bacarro.
The AFP chief said the proposed new sites are still subject to approval by the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
While waiting for the approval of the five new EDCA sites, Faustino said that the completion of the five previously approved EDCA sites is expected within the next two years. These are located in Palawan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Cebu, and Cagayan de Oro City.
It was learned the US is planning to allocate $70 millionion or nearly 4 billion in the next two years to implement EDCA.
Under the EDCA, the Philippine government is working with the United States to build the future facilities in Cesar Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija; Lumbia Airfield in Cagayan De Oro; Antonio Bautista Airbase in Puerto Princesa, Palawan; and Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.
Faustino said the facilities are Philippines-owned, adding that if the Americans use it, “they will have to ask permission from us before they could do that.”
Faustino clarified that the EDCA sites will not be used as military bases by the US since it is not allowed under the Constitution. It will also not be used to store weapons of mass destruction like nuclear weapons, easing the fears of the public.
“We are not building bases. We are not allowed to,” Faustino said during the culmination of the 83rd founding anniversary of the DND in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City. “What we have are EDCA sites. This is enhanced defense cooperation sites that we [will] use for training facilities, warehouses.”
The establishment of the additional EDCA sites were discussed during the Mutual Defense Board – Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) meeting which was attended by Faustino and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III in Hawaii in September.
The five new EDCA sites were confirmed by US officials in Washington interviewed by visiting Filipino journalists.
A senior US defense official in Washington DC said: “There are five existing Edca sites and five additional ones we are looking at.”
The US official said the Edca “was a point of conversation” between US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III and Defense Senior Undersecretary Jose Faustino Jr. when they met in Hawaii recently.
The defense official said Austin and Faustino discussed “if we’re going to accelerate investments in infrastructure at the five existing Edca sites.”
“And also that we would consult closely and look at the map for additional sites that could be added on to the Edca in the future,” the official said.
“We need this agreement to move more quickly on funding and infrastructure support at the five Edca sites we have right now,” the official said.
“Now is a positive step in the right direction, I think it’s gonna allow the US military and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) to be more responsive,” the official added.