Gatchalian on Edca locations: Strategic for PH or US?
MANILA, Philippines — Whether the recently identified Edca sites are advantageous to the US or the Philippines is up for debate, but one thing is for sure – they are undeniably strategic.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Wednesday raised the matter during the Senate inquiry on the four new agreed sites.
Gatchalian pointed out that relocating the new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) sites to Bicol Region and the country’s eastern seaboard could benefit disaster preparedness, maritime security, and counterterrorism.
However, Senior Undersecretary of Defense Carlito Galvez Jr. emphasized that the vulnerabilities of the Philippines are located on its northeastern side.
“We can see that our vulnerabilities are located on the northeastern side in terms of maritime security, while on the disaster side, we see that our experiences that in the areas of Cagayan and Isabela, we have experiences that these areas have been isolated during the previous typhoons,” Galvez said.
“That’s why when we have deliberated … the most vulnerable areas in terms of maritime security, in terms of our protection of our maritime interest including Benham Rise and also the West Philippines Sea, we saw there is a need really for the immediate designations of three sites on the north and also another site on the part, the southeastern part of the country, which is Balabac.
“The four Edca sites we have chosen lately, we consider this as very strategic in terms of our detections, in terms of our capability to respond,” he added.
Gatchalian, however, was not convinced by the explanation given.
“You mentioned that it is strategic, but strategic to whom? Is it strategic for us or is it strategic for the US because … if humanitarian and disaster response will be one of the core goals of this agreement, then common sense will dictate that the present should be located in disaster-prone areas for purposes of quick response,” Gatchalian said.
Four new Edca sites have been added, including Camilo Osias Naval Base and Lal-lo Airport in the coastal town of Cagayan province, which is roughly 600 kilometers away from Taiwan. Also included are Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela province, and Balabac, the southernmost island in Palawan province.
Five Edca sites exist. Three of them are at Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, closest to the Kalayaan Group of Islands; Basa Air Base in Pampanga, home to the Philippine Air Force’s fighter planes; and Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, the country’s largest military camp and a frequent site of Philippine-US military exercises.
The other two areas are Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City.
The Edca, signed in 2014 during President Benigno S. Aquino’s administration, allows US troops to rotate through Philippines military bases and also store defense equipment and supplies inside them.