Adds 4 unnamed military sites as highlight of Defense Sec. Austin’s visit
The Philippines on Thursday said it has agreed to let the United States expand its military presence here, giving American troops access to four new sites in the country against the backdrop of aggressive Chinese actions in the West Philippine Sea.
In a joint statement issued during the visit of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III, both sides announced plans to accelerate the full implementation of the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), including designating four new locations in strategic areas of the country and the substantial completion of projects in the existing five locations.
EDCA enables US forces to have access to designated Philippine military camps, where they can be indefinitely stationed on a rotational basis. In October, the US sought access for a larger number of its troops and weapons.
“The EDCA is a key pillar of the US-Philippines alliance, which supports combined training, exercises, and interoperability between our forces,” said the statement released by the US and Philippine Defense departments. “Expansion of the EDCA will make our alliance stronger and more resilient, and will accelerate modernization of our combined military capabilities.”
“The addition of these new EDCA locations will allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines, and respond to other shared challenges,” it said.
The statement did not identify the four new locations or refer to China specifically.
The announcement came shortly after the arrival of Austin at the Defense department building in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, for a meeting with Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr.
“The United States has allocated over $82 million towardinfrastructure investments at the existing five sites under the EDCA, and is proud that these investments are supporting economic growth and job creation in local Philippine communities,” the US embassy said in a statement.
Manila and Washington DC have committed to moving quickly in agreeing to the necessary plans and investments for the new and existing EDCA locations.
“The Philippine-US alliance has stood the test of time and remains ironclad. We look forward to the opportunities these new sites will create to expand our cooperation together,” the Department of National Defense (DND) said.
Finalized after eight rounds of talks in August 2013, the EDCA signed in 2014 allows US troops access to designated Philippine military facilities, the right to build facilities, and position equipment, aircraft, and vessels, but rules out permanent basing.
Under the EDCA, the Philippine government is working with the US to build the future facilities in Cesar Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija; Lumbia Airfield in Cagayan de Oro City; Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, Palawan; and Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.
Austin said Thursday the two countries also reaffirmed their commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
“Today, Secretary Carlito Galvez and I also reaffirmed our Mutual Defense Treaty commitments. We note that the MDT applies to armed attacks on either of our armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft anywhere in the South China Sea or the West Philippines Sea,” Austin said at a press conference in Camp Aguinaldo.
“We discussed actions to address these destabilizing activities in the water surrounding the Philippines including the West Philippine Sea and we remain committed to strengthening our mutual capacities to resist armed attacks,” he added.
Austin said these actions are important as “China continues to advance their illegitimate claims in the West Philippines Sea.”
In 2013, the Philippines challenged China’s vast claims in the South China Sea before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands. Manila won the case in a landmark award in 2016 after the tribunal invalidated Beijing’s assertions, but China has refused to recognize the ruling.
Following Austin’s courtesy call at the Palace, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the future of the Philippines will always involve the United States, saying he recognized its help in protecting the country’s interests in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is the subject of conflicting territorial claims among six countries, namely China, Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan.
In the meeting, the President acknowledged that the US has been the Philippines’ longest partner and ally.
Mr. Marcos described the rising geopolitical tensions in the Asia Pacific region as “terribly complicated.”
“It is something that we can only navigate properly with the help of our partners and our allies in the international sphere,” he said.
“I would be stating the obvious to say that our longest partner and ally has been the United States and as we traverse these rather troubled waters, geopolitical waters, economic waters that we are facing, I again put great importance on that partnership, specifically with the United States and all partnerships and alliances that we are able to make with our friends around the world,” Mr. Marcos said.
“I have always said that it seems to me that the future of the Philippines and for that matter the Asia Pacific, will always have to involve the United States simply because our partnership was so strong,” the President said.
He said the partnership is advantageous for both countries.
Austin acknowledged the strong relations between Manila and Washington, noting that the US will continue to work with the Philippines to “modernize the capability and increase interoperability” of its armed forces.
“We do have a strong relationship and my goal, and certainly PresidentBiden’s goal, is to strengthen that relationship in every way possible,” Austin said.
Also on Thursday, Austin vowed that the US would provide humanitarian assistance to the victims of the earthquake in Davao de Oro town on Wednesday evening.
Austin made the commitment after a magnitude six tectonic earthquake struck New Bataan in Davao de Oro at 6:44 p.m. on Wednesday.
“We are very sorry to learn yesterday that there was an earthquake down in Mindanao,” Austin told Mr. Marcos.
“I’m relieved to hear from my team that the damage was not significant, at least, that’s what we understand thus far, and of course, we have not heard of significant injuries being reported as well, but we know how these things develop,” he added.
According to the senior US official, they already have personnel in the affected area.
“We stand ready to help in any way that we can. I think our AID (Agency for International Development) personnel are in the area, andthey stand ready to help to provide humanitarian assistance when and where possible,” Austin said.
“So please don’t hesitate to reach out if there’s a need,” he added.