Barbers brothers offer Surigao del Norte as Edca site
Picturesque Surigao del Norte, a prime tourist and surfing destination, may soon be known as the latest host to American forces in the country under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca).
That is if the Barbers brothers of Surigao del Norte province convince the Philippine and US militaries to establish an Edca site in that part of the country facing the Pacific Ocean.
In a statement on Saturday, House dangerous drugs panel chair Rep. Robert Ace Barbers and his older brother Gov. Lyndon Barbers invited top Filipino and American military officials to check out their home province.
Edca allows the US military to build facilities and preposition supplies, equipment, and materiel inside Philippine military bases.
The congressman pointed out that Surigao del Norte’s deep waters could accommodate “huge” US Navy ships.
The brothers made the offer after US Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. John Aquilino said he and Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. considered adding more to the current nine Edca sites.
The proposed expansion follows US efforts to deter China’s growing aggression in the South China Sea and against Taiwan, as well as Chinese actions against Filipino ships within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Surigao del Norte has a “distinct advantage as it is openly facing the Pacific Ocean yet has an outlet to the West Philippine Sea,” the congressman said. “The ships can traverse the country from east to west and vice versa without needing to circle around.”
The Philippine archipelago has a long coastline on both its eastern and western seaboards.
The distance between the northern tip of Surigao del Norte and Pag-asa, the biggest island in the West Philippine Sea occupied by Filipinos, is about 1,220 kilometers.
The southern tip of Taiwan is more than 1,400 km north of Surigao del Norte.
The congressman said the military presence in the province “will discourage any hostile activity and even posturing by foreign forces, both civilian or otherwise.”Surigao del Norte’s Siargao Island is world-famous for its surf sites.
Warm welcome awaits
His provincemates, Barbers said, would surely “warmly welcome the Americans, our longtime friends and allies” and the establishment of an Edca site in the province would “spur economic prosperity in the region, which the people will be happy about.”
The Surigao del Norte governor said setting up an Edca base will benefit “the whole eastern regions of the Visayas and Mindanao.”
“In times of calamities, aid can be delivered fast and wide … Remember that our region is always under threat from nature’s wrath, be it supertyphoons or strong earthquakes,” the older Barbers said.
The last devastating typhoon to hit Surigao del Norte was “Odette” (international name: Rai), which killed 71 people in northeastern Mindanao, including 38 in the province, in December 2021.
A working group under the Mutual Defense Board would be discussing the operational and strategic considerations in choosing a possible site, according to an Inquirer source familiar with the process.
The first five Edca locations were 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.
This year, four more sites were added: Camilo Osias Naval Base and Lal-lo Airport both in Cagayan; Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela; and Balabac Island in the West Philippine Sea.
Military forces in Surigao del Norte are under the AFP’s Eastern Command. Placer town is home to the Army’s 901st Infantry Brigade.
—WITH REPORTS FROM FRANCES MANGOSING AND INQUIRER RESEARCH