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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

PH, US officials to visit EDCA sites; Senate vows ‘billions’ for military

Top Philippine and US military officials are set to visit today newly developed bases in Cagayan and Pampanga that American troops can use under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the two countries.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Romeo Brawner will accompany US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson and the Commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral John Aquilino, to Lal-lo Airport and Naval Base Camilo Osias in Sta. Ana, Cagayan; and Basa Air Base in Pampanga.

The tour of the completed EDCA projects at Basa Air Base will provide an opportunity for the senior military officials to gain firsthand knowledge of the bases’ potential for developing key facilities to support humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) operations and the AFP’s modernization priorities.

The visit to the EDCA sites is a prelude to the upcoming Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) meeting scheduled to be held at Camp Aguinaldo on Sept. 14.

Brawner and Aquilino’s visit signifies the commitment of both AFP and US Armed Forces to further strengthen their cooperation, ensuring that both militaries are prepared and well-equipped to respond to evolving security challenges and humanitarian crises, the AFP said.

Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said all the senators agreed to add billions to the proposed budget of the AFP to boost its capacity to protect the country’s security and sovereignty.

However, Zubiri could not give an exact amount for the additional funding, which will be used to procure equipment.

The Senate leader said the PCG will also be allotted additional funds to buy ships to patrol the West Philippine Sea. The PCG has also asked the Senate for a supplemental budget of P144 million for its confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) for fiscal year 2024.

Zubiri said the additional funding for the AFP and PCG will be taken from lump sum funds of different government agencies, which will be Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, who chairs the Senate finance committee.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., meanwhile, said the modernization of the AFP must be sustained and should not be done “piecemeal” to have an impact on the country’s credible deterrence posture.

Teodoro said he wants weapon systems and platforms to be acquired in the ongoing AFP modernization program to be capable of facing all kinds of security threats.

“What we need is a modernization that is not piecemeal, that is also interoperable, and it should have a positive effect on our credible defense posture. We need a real modernization and not one that is just for show,” he said on the sidelines of Monday’s commissioning of the two Alvarez-class patrol vessels.

While acquiring new weapon systems and platforms could be expensive, the DND chief said it would be at least capable of handling various security challenges, such as the peaceful protection of Philippine sovereign rights in the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, and Filipino fishermen so they can fish without any disturbance from foreign forces.

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