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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Biden sourcing $128m for EDCA projects in PH

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US President Joe Biden is sourcing $128 million (P7.24 billion) to execute projects for Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites in the Philippines, Malacañang disclosed late Saturday.

“President Biden’s new pleasant request seeks 128 million dollars to execute 36 projects and enhance defense cooperation agreement size and that would more than double the amount that we’ve invested in EDCA infrastructure,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told President Marcos, according to Malacañang.

Malacañang said Austin relayed this during his meeting with President Marcos at the Pentagon, a day after Mr. Marcos’ trilateral meeting with Biden and Japan Prime Minister Kishida Fumio in Washington.

The US defense chief said both countries invested significant time and resources to address shared security challenges.

Austin also reiterated Biden’s assurance on the US’ commitment to the defense of the Philippines, which he described as “ironclad.”

He said that “an armed attack on the Philippine Armed Forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, including South China Sea” will invoke US defense commitments to the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

The EDCA is an accord signed between the Philippines and the US in 2014 that deepens the defense cooperation of the MDT.

In 2016, the Philippines and the US agreed on five initial sites on which both sides will construct facilities and preposition equipment.

The selection of the EDCA sites is in accordance with the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Strategic Basing Plan.

The identified sites are Philippine military bases to be further developed based on the strategic requirements for the basing and development of the AFP.

In September 2023, Filipino and American troops mounted “high-level” exchanges and expanded projects under the EDCA.

The AFP said the annual mutual defense board meeting led by AFP Chief Gen. Romeo Brawner, Jr. and US Indo-Pacific Command Commander Admiral John Aquilino had “fruitful discussions.”

Brawner and Aquilino wanted to speed up the completion of EDCA projects and place 63 more on top of the 32 programs under the agreement.

“The meeting is the culminating activity of the PH-US planning cycle that assessed previous activities and set out over 500 bilateral engagements for 2024 to include exercises and high-level exchanges,” the statement read.

These exchanges, AFP said, would include security cooperation, strategies on strengthening maritime security, information sharing, among others.

“It signifies our commitment to further strengthen our cooperation, ensuring that both militaries are equipped and well-prepared to respond to evolving security challenges,” Brawner said.

Aside from this, Brawner and Aquilino reaffirmed the two nations’ commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty and stressed the importance of a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region aligned on a rules-based international order. Vince Lopez

Last week, top Philippine and US officials flew to the EDCA sites at the Lal-lo Airport in Lal-lo and Naval Base Camilo Osias in Sta. Ana, both in Cagayan.

They assessed the potential of the sites for the development of facilities to support humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations, as well as the modernization of the AFP.

The officials also went to the Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga to inspect completed EDCA projects. These include a command and control fusion center and the renovated runway.

There are now nine Philippine bases that the US are allowed to use under EDCA.

Four of them were identified last April, namely, the Naval Base Camilo Osias in Santa Ana, Cagayan; Lal-lo Airport in Lal-lo, Cagayan; Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela; and Balabac Island in Palawan.


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