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Not quite a base, but US has full access to AFP camps

MANILA, Philippines—The United States has unimpeded access to certain areas in Philippine military bases as well as the authority to carry out necessary actions for operational control or defense and exclusive use of its prepositioned matériel, according to the security arrangement signed on Monday and posted on the government website on Tuesday.

Critics of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) claim the 10-year pact allows the establishment of US bases, which is prohibited by the Constitution.

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But both the Philippines and the United States say this isn’t so even with the increased number of US troops arriving in the Philippines and some provisions in the 10-page agreement that appear to give a semblance of semipermanent foreign military bases.

Ambassador J. Eduardo Malaya, a member of the Philippine panel that negotiated the deal, told the Inquirer that the Edca did not provide parameters necessary for the United States to establish military bases in the Philippines—“extraterritoriality, exclusivity in use and foreign ownership.”

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“They are not applicable to the areas that would be shared with the US military so there are no US bases,” he said.

The Edca allows the United States three things: access to and use of agreed locations; construction of infrastructure; and storage or prepositioning of assets.

Prepositioned matériel

Article III of the agreement provides that the Department of National Defense “shall assist in facilitating transit or temporary access by United States forces to public land and facilities (including roads, ports and airfields), including those owned or controlled by local governments, and to other land and facilities (including roads, ports and airfields).”

Article IV provides that “prepositioned matériel of United States forces shall be for the exclusive use of United States forces, and full title to all such equipment, supplies and matériel remains with the US.”

“United States forces shall have control over the access to and disposition of such prepositioned matériel and shall have the unencumbered right to remove such prepositioned matériel at any time from the territory of the Philippines,” the Edca said.

Unimpeded access

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US forces and contractors “shall have unimpeded access” to the identified Philippine military camps “for all matters relating to the prepositioning and storage of defense equipment, supplies and matériel.”

Article V says the United States shall return to the Philippines any “agreed location” in the bases, or portions used, including those that were built or improved by the Americans.

“The parties may consult regarding the possible transfer or purchase of equipment determined to be excess, as may be allowed by United States laws and regulations,” the agreement said.

Article VI provides that both parties will “ensure the protection, safety and security of United States forces and United States contractors, and the protection and security of official United States information in the territory of the Philippines.”

PH panels to vet activities

The Philippines retains the primary responsibility for the security of all the bases.

“United States forces are authorized to exercise all rights and authorities within agreed locations that are necessary for their operational control or defense, including taking appropriate measures to protect United States forces and United States contractors. The United States should coordinate such measures with appropriate authorities of the Philippines,” the Edca said.

Article VII allows the US forces to use, free of charge, the Armed Forces of the Philippines radio frequency spectrum and operate their own telecommunications systems.

A highly placed government source told the Inquirer that all prepositioned US forces matériel and their inventory that are needed in the two militaries’ activities would undergo vetting by the AFP and the defense department. The source emphasized that all activities to be undertaken under the Edca would have to be authorized by the Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board.

“The Philippines will also ensure that even with the exclusive use by the US military of their assets, they won’t bring in anything prohibited under our Constitution,” the source said, referring to nuclear weapons and components. The source requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak with reporters.

Bayan Muna lawmakers on Wednesday said the  agreement clearly showed the unprecedented access that American troops would have in the Philippines and would turn it into Washington’s “biggest military base in the world.”

Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base were Washington’s largest overseas facilities before they were shut down in 1991 after the Senate rejected renewal of the military bases agreement.

Constitutionality questioned

The group is all set to question Edca’s constitutionality in the Supreme Court, said Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate. The Constitution states that foreign military bases, troops or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate, he said.

“The agreement promises to promote the modernization of the AFP yet it is not clear how this can be accomplished if our country is relegated to being a weapons depot and our soldiers become the glorified security guards of US troops and their equipment,” Zarate said.

Forward base, launch pad

Zarate criticized the provision that prevents the Philippines from getting a third-party arbiter in case of disputes. “This is scary and alarming. Why should the Philippines allow its hands to be tied like this? We will be at the losing end, once again,” he said.

Rep. Neri Colmenares said under the Edca the Philippines will become a “forward base or a launching pad” for US attacks on other countries. “This is against the spirit of the Constitution and drags us into all the wars of the US,” he said.

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TAGS: access to bases, Diplomacy, enhanced defense cooperation agreement (Edca), Military, Philippines, US
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