Lawmaker wants Pag-asa Island among Edca sites
MANILA, Philippines — Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez on Monday pushed for the inclusion of Pag-asa Island off the coast of Palawan province as a possible site under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) with the United States to deter further aggression from China in the disputed West Philippine Sea (WPS).
Rodriguez, chair of the House constitutional amendments committee, made the proposal on Monday, days after US and Philippine officials announced the designation of four new Edca sites.
“It is in our national interest to pursue and expand our defense partnership with the US to deter further aggression from China in the West Philippine Sea and possible Chinese seizure of islets that belong to us under international law,” he said in a statement.
Rodriguez added: “The expanded Edca should be further broadened. More sites along our western seaboard, where Chinese aggression and harassment of our fishermen have been taking place, should be covered.”
In suggesting Pag-asa Island as an Edca site in the future, the lawmaker from Cagayan de Oro City said: “We have an airstrip there. The Department of National Defense is also building a small port. We could ask our US counterparts to improve those facilities.”
He said the free ports in Subic, Zambales, and Clark in Angeles City, Pampanga, which are former US military bases, “should (likewise) be part of Edca training exercises and humanitarian activities.”
“The presence of the US in the former naval 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,” Rodriguez noted.
Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, in a separate statement, said that the expedited full implementation of Edca would ensure that US military personnel and logistics are immediately available to respond to the Philippines in case of natural disasters.
“We are the most disaster-prone country in the world. There’s no question American troops and their equipment can help us in a big way in critical life-saving disaster relief and recovery operations,” Pimentel said.
For House Deputy Minority Leader Rep. France Castro, a member of the Makabayan bloc, however, the United States is “adding insult to injury” with the designation of more Edca sites.
The three-member bloc on Monday filed a House resolution urging the United States to apologize for atrocities committed against Filipinos during the Philippine-American War and the US occupation of the Philippines in the 1900s.
In the Senate, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa on Monday said he was having second thoughts about whether to support the government’s decision to grant US forces access to additional Philippine military facilities due to the previous abuses committed by American servicemen.
Dela Rosa, a retired chief of the Philippine National Police, said he was also worried about its effect on the country’s sovereignty since American soldiers who were accused of committing criminal offenses had enjoyed “special treatment.”
He said expanding the military sites under Edca should be closely scrutinized.
“I’m 50-50 on this because while it could be a deterrent against bullying from our neighbors… it may also compromise our sovereignty,” he said.
American soldiers, he said, should be reminded that they are mandated to abide by the country’s laws during their stay in the Philippines.
As to the plan to revive the joint patrols involving Philippine and US forces in the West Philippine Sea, the senator said such proposal would benefit the country in protecting its territorial waters.
“If the US would join us in patrolling (the West Philippine Sea), then we will not be bullied easily,” Dela Rosa said.
Fishermen in Zambales province have mixed reactions to the joint maritime patrols with the United States in the West Philippine Sea.
While some of them said they believed the presence of US troops would reduce the harassment experienced by Filipino fishermen, the fishers’ group Pamalakaya feared that the planned joint maritime patrol could only heighten the tensions in the area.
Fisherman Reynaldo Sirrado, 58, who reportedly experienced harassment from the Chinese coast guard near Scarborough Shoal, told the Inquirer that he hoped the partnership would reduce what he described as “persistent bullying” by China.
Another fisherman, Rodencio Edora, 72, recalled that the US Navy used to protect them from Chinese incursions in the 1980s when American forces were in Subic.
“The Chinese were afraid of the US troops, so we felt safe while making a living at sea,” said Edora in a separate interview.
For Pamalakaya, the joint patrol would not only heighten tension in the West Philippine Sea but also threaten Philippine sovereignty.
—WITH REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS AND JOANNA ROSE AGLIBOT
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