THE Philippines and United States have finally agreed where the Americans can build facilities under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement which was affirmed by the Supreme Court last January.
According to a joint statement issued after the sixth Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in Washington DC earlier this week, the bases are the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa City, the Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro and the Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.
The agreement was reached after the dialogue which included Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Evan P. Garcia and Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo F. Batino for the Philippines with US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel and US Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear.
“Both sides expressed their firm opposition to the ongoing militarization of outposts in the South China Sea,” the two countries said in the joint statement released on Saturday.
The statement did not name a specific country in the context of militarization but the meeting took place as the United States steps up its criticism of China for its buildup of military equipment such as missile launchers and radars in disputed areas in the sea.
Washington and Manila “discussed their common view that the installation of new military assets on the outposts escalates tensions.”
The US and Philippine governments will hold detailed discussions on the US military’s use of the five bases on upcoming occasions such as a planned visit by US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to the Philippines next month.
Washington and Manila also agreed they will urge Beijing to follow the ruling of a UN arbitral tribunal in The Hague when it hands down a decision over the legality of China’s territorial claims in the sea, according to the statement.
The Edca was signed in 2014, but the pact was disputed before the Supreme Court which ruled on its legality only last January.
The choice of the five military bases is expected to unlock millions of dollars in US military aid.
US Ambassador Phillip Goldberg had earlier said that the US Congress would earmark more than $66 million to finance the construction of the US facilities to be built in the country.
“Let me point out that we have about $66 million in foreign military funding in process for the Philippines and we expect that there will be additional sources of funds for both carrying out Edca to military construction funds and also to increases in what we call the maritime security initiative,” Goldberg said last month.
“Edca is designed to support what the Philippines is trying to do in terms of building a minimum credible defense, in terms of modernizing and equipping its armed forces,” Goldberg added.
But militant groups expressed opposition the plan on Saturday and called the agreement a “midnight deal” and a precedent for US bases to return to Philippine shores.
“The Aquino government is desperately rushing the approval of these so-called “agreed locations” before Aquino steps down on June 30. Aquino, who previously negotiated the Edca in secret, also conducted secret talks for the agreed locations for new US bases,” Renato Reyes, Bayan secretary-general, said.
Reyes added that they will make it an agenda for the next Philippine president to review the termination of the controversial security accord.
“Since Edca is an executive agreement, it is well within the power of the next president to terminate it,” Reyes said.
Even before the the approval the defense accord, locals have already expressed opposition to convert military camps and unused airports as launchpads for American forces.
In Cagayan de Oro alone, local officials are already seeking to transfer ownership of the old airport to the City Government of Cagayan de Oro in direct opposition to any utilization of the old Lumbia airport by the US troops.
The local city council want the old airport to be utilized for housing, recreational and commercial purposes.
The 547-hectare property, now being used as a minor air base of the Philippine Air Force, is under the ownership of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines.
The Philippines hosted two of the largest overseas US military bases until 1991, when the Philippine Senate voted to end their leases.
The Philippines and the United States are already bound by a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement.
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