Galvez pitches Edca to LGUs
MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. is hopeful that local government units (LGUs) will support the latest agreement between the Philippines and the United States on American troops’ access to more military bases in the country, saying it is “not just about security” but also for economic growth.
The Philippines and the United States announced last week that they agreed on four new locations in “strategic areas” where Americans will have access under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca). However, officials declined to identify the sites pending consultations with the local communities.
“It is our fervent hope that our LGUs will also realize that the Edca is not just about security,” Galvez said in a statement on Sunday.
“We enjoin them to look into the potential foreign investments and economic development that Edca sites will bring to their communities as well as the enhancement of the protection of our areas that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and the quicker disaster response and mitigation if our front-liners are called to action,” he added.
Last year, the Philippine military announced that the United States sought access to five bases — two in Cagayan, and one each in Zambales, Isabela, and Palawan — which would bring American troops closer to Taiwan and the West Philippine Sea, where tensions continue to escalate due to China’s assertiveness.
The United States currently has access to five locations after Edca was signed in 2014: Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan and Mactan Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III called the new agreement a “big deal” even though it did not cover permanent US presence.
“This is an opportunity to increase our effectiveness, increase interoperability. It is not about permanent basing,” he said last week.
US forces left the Philippines in 1992 after the Senate rejected the extension of the 1947 Philippines-US Military Bases Agreement.
Before Philippine senators voted to terminate the agreement with the United States, the Americans kept a large presence in strategic bases at Clark and Subic Bay in Central Luzon. They also operated the Wallace Air Station in La Union province, which is now being used by the Philippine Air Force.
Philippine and US officials argue that Edca, which allows the United States to preposition personnel, equipment and supplies in Philippine military bases during crisis, would help protect the Philippines during times of conflict.
Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba, however, has expressed apprehension over the possibility of his province becoming an Edca location.
The coastal province of Cagayan in the northern Philippines is around 600 kilometers from Taiwan.
“Personally, I do not want any foreign forces or foreign base in my province,” he told the Inquirer.
“We have an Army brigade in Cagayan with two battalions and two or three battalions of Marines. We have enough, I think,” he said.
Mamba acknowledged that the new agreement was already approved by President Marcos, but he remained hesitant that Cagayan could be included in the list. “Then put it in the island of Fuga and not in the mainland Luzon,” he suggested.
Fuga Island is the second northernmost island group under the jurisdiction of Aparri town, which has access to both the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea.
Chinese investors once considered developing the island but the Philippine Navy raised alarm over security implications due to its strategic value.
Mamba, who had opposed plans of Philippine and US militaries to hold live-fire military exercises in his province last year out of concerns that it could offend China and put potential economic investments at risk, said the Americans were only “after their own interest not ours.”
“[The] Chinese came to us as merchants while Americans, Spaniards, and Japanese came to our shores as conquerors with their guns and canons. Now is our time to engage China as a partner, ally, and friendly neighbor,” he said.
He said Cagayanons also never received any help from the Americans in the aftermath of Supertyphoons “Lawin” (international name: Haima) in 2016 and “Ompong” (Mangkut) in 2018 as well as during Typhoon “Ulysses” (Vamco) in 2020.
“Why do they want to help [in disaster response] all of a sudden? It’s just because of the recent events in Taiwan. Let’s not allow ourselves to be used,” he warned.
China claims self-ruled Taiwan as part of its own territory and has refused to rule out force to bring it under its control.
‘Modern-day Pearl Harbor’
A regional think tank also warned on Sunday that the reestablishment of US presence in the Philippines would only make the country a “modern-day Pearl Harbor” for their enemies.
In a statement, the Asia-Pacific Research Network (APRN) said the addition of four more US sites in the Philippines under Edca would only aggravate rights abuses, militarism, and the likelihood of war here.
Far from being a safeguard against possible conflict in the West Philippine Sea or the Taiwan Strait, the new US facilities “could cause harm through military conflict, escalation of the human rights crisis, and economic and environmental degradation,” APRN said.
—WITH REPORTS FROM KRIXIA SUBINGSUBING AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
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