Work on 3-km runway, pier in progress at Edca site
BALABAC ISLAND, Palawan, Philippines — The Philippine military has started building a 3-kilometer runway and a pier here, an island strategically close to Chinese fortifications in the West Philippine Sea and one of the four additional locations where American forces can preposition equipment and station troops on rotation under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca).
Construction work has begun ahead of the implementation of the agreement forged in April between Manila and Washington increasing the US-accessible sites in the country from five to nine.
“This is for the defense of the country,” Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Andres Centino said on Wednesday when he visited the island with some journalists to inspect the project site.
Governed as a municipality at Palawan’s southernmost tip, the island is about 140 nautical miles from Panganiban (Mischief) Reef which China has transformed into one of its largest military outposts in the Spratly Islands chain despite being located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Centino said Balabac was part of a strategic maritime route that would allow the AFP to monitor all passing ships.
“We have to be able to detect intrusions. If we have to defend, we have to detect and identify who’s coming in,” he told reporters.
Not yet ‘Edca-related’
“It’s really important at this point that we are able to come up with the facility or the capability to detect vessels or aircraft coming in and out … Before we start planning how to defend, we should know whether those coming in are hostile or friendly,” Centino said.
But he clarified that the construction of the runway and pier began way before the island was officially announced as one of the new Edca sites.
No “Edca-related construction’’ has commenced on Balabac and the three other locations (two in Cagayan province and one in Isabela), Centino said.
The runway project — which would cost about P700 million and be done in four phases — was conceived in 2019 (under the Duterte administration) and was funded by the Philippine government for joint use between the Philippine Air Force and the local government.
The project is currently facing issues related to ancestral domain claims, but Centino said the AFP was making “adjustments” in order to finish it as soon as possible. “The challenge really is bringing in the materials. We’re looking to finish this soon … Time is of the essence,” he said.
For sharing soon
The construction of the concrete pier—along with a beaching ramp—started in January at the Naval Station Narciso del Rosario, with the cost estimated at about P305 million.
The beaching ramp, which would allow the delivery of heavy construction materials, is expected to be finished by next year, while the pier should be completed by 2026.
Centino also visited “Edca projects” at Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, one of the five original Edca sites. Among the facilities shown to journalists were a command and control center, a fuel tank with a 20,000-gallon capacity, and an ammunition depot.
“We are the ones using (them),” he said, but they can be made available to American forces if necessary.
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