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EDCA sites ‘not for attacks’

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PBBM nixes ‘offensive actions’ from bases as Balikatan begins

The Philippines will not allow “any offensive actions” from the bases it has opened to US troops, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said Monday.

The assurance comes as the Philippines and the United States kick off their biggest Balikatan military exercise today.

More than 17,600 military personnel — 5,400 from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and 12,200 from the United States Forces — will be participating in the 38th Balikatan exercise scheduled from April 11 to 28 in various areas in Zambales, Aurora, Palawan, and Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.

They will be joined by 111 military personnel from the Australian Defense Force, as officials from 12 countries will be observers.

Manila last week announced the locations of four more military bases it is allowing the US military to use on top of the five agreed on under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, known as EDCA.

The deal allows US troops to rotate through and store defense equipment and supplies.

But China warned last week the expanded military deal could endanger regional peace and accused Washington of a “zero-sum mentality.”

The four additional bases include sites near the hotly disputed South China Sea and another not far from Taiwan.

Mr. Marcos said China’s reaction over the expanded military deal was “not surprising,” but assured them the Philippines is only shoring up its territorial defense.

“We will not allow our bases to be used for any offensive actions. This is only aimed at helping the Philippines whenever we need help,” Marcos told reporters.

“If no one is attacking us, they need not worry because we will not fight them.”

The pact stalled under former president Rodrigo Duterte, who favored closer ties with China.

But Mr. Marcos, who succeeded Duterte in June, has adopted a more US-friendly foreign policy, and sought to accelerate the implementation of the EDCA.

The President has insisted he will not let Beijing trample on Manila’s maritime rights.

His remarks came on the heels of China’s third day of war games around Taiwan on Monday, where it simulated “sealing off” the self-ruled island (see related story on A1 – Editors).

China launched the military exercises in response to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen last week meeting US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, an encounter it had warned would provoke a furious response.

Meanwhile, AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar said the preparations for the Balikatan exercises are made a year in advance and the troops are ready.

The exercises will include work on maritime security, amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban and aviation operations, cyber defense, counterterrorism, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Balikatan 2023 spokesperson Col. Michael Logico said this would be the first time the AFP and US forces would engage in live-fire drills at sea.

“It has always been an interoperability exercise to test our concepts for maritime defense, for coastal defense and maritime domain awareness,” Logico said.

The Balikatan exercise is being held amid the rising tensions over the territorial dispute between Manila and Beijing.

China warned the country that it might draw “potential conflict” after the designation of new EDCA sites in the Philippines.

The new EDCA sites will be the Naval Base Camilo Osias in Sta Ana, Cagayan; Lal-lo Airport in Lal-lo, Cagayan; Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela; and Balabac Island in Palawan.

The five current EDCA locations are Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu, and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City.

Mao Ning, the spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the additional EDCA sites “may draw… [the Philippines] into the whirlpool of a potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait.”

Signed in 2014, EDCA grants US troops access to designated Philippine military facilities and allows them to build facilities, and position equipment, aircraft, and vessels. With AFP

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