By Rommel C. Banlaoi
Defense Department Officer-in-Charge Jose Faustino Jr. announced the construction of five additional American military facilities in Philippine bases across Luzon to boost the implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
Locations of these new facilities have been identified in two sites in Cagayan and one site each in Isabela, Palawan and Zambales.
Original five facilities have been built and being further developed in Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Lumbia Airpot in Cagayan de Oro and Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mactan, Cebu.
US Ambassador to the Philippines, Mary Kay Carlson, also announced the plan of Washington, DC to provide Manila $70 million worth of military assistance to the Philippines in the next two years to implement EDCA under the administration of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.
To formally launch the construction of new EDCA sites, US Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in the Philippines last November from her trip to Thailand after attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.
Harris visited Puerto Princesa, Palawan where an EDCA facility is built facing the West Philippine Sea.
Though Faustino has strongly stressed that EDCA sites are primarily earmarked for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response facilities, training facilities, warehouses and operation centers, these areas are some of the country’s top strategic locations that can effectively facilitate US military activities in major flash points of armed conflicts in Asia, particularly in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Straits and the Korean Peninsula.
Building American military facilities in Philippine territories amidst worsening geopolitical rivalry between the US and China also raises the risks of the Philippines getting inevitably involved in the event of military conflicts between these two competing major powers.
Signed on April 28, 2014, EDCA aims to complement the Visiting Forces Agreement that came into force on May 27, 1999.
Both EDCA and the VFA are supplementary military agreements aimed to implement the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, the legal foundation of Philippine-American security alliance described as one the longest-lived military alliances in the world.
The MDT makes the US the only military ally of the Philippines. The US, on the other hand, acknowledges the Philippines as its oldest security ally in Asia.
Operationalizing the MDT, EDCA’s lofty goal is to support American strategic mission of maintaining peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region by assisting the Philippines in building national military capacities and interoperability with American troops in the area of maritime security, maritime domain awareness, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, search and rescue operations, as well as counter terrorism.
Thus, there are also high expectations in Manila that EDCA can also contribute to the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Tactically, EDCA provides the US military strong operational access to Philippine territories to pre-position, store and maintain American defense technologies, security supplies, military equipment, and other logistical materiel needed to reinforce various types of American military activities not only in the Philippines and also in the wider Indo-Pacific region.
With EDCA, the US can station on rotational basis some American troops, warships and fighter planes in AFP bases.
In fact, EDCA is a creative measure of the US armed forces to maintain its presence in the Philippines without a permanent military basing arrangement being prohibited by the 1987 Philippine Constitution.
In 2016, the Philippine Supreme Court declared EDCA as constitutional.
As such, EDCA has become an integral part of the American network of military access arrangements in Asia aiming to assert American global military leadership in the 21st century.
EDCA also contributes to the strengthening of the Pentagon’s web of military treaty alliances in Asia involving Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Thailand, not to mention Taiwan.
Beijing, however, expresses tremendous security anxieties that EDCA sites hosting US military facilities in the Philippines are discreetly targeting China meant to deter this growing Asian power from its persistent assertion of sovereignty in Taiwan and in the South China Sea.
There is also a prevailing view in the Chinese government that EDCA and US alliances in Asia intend to strategically contain China.
As early as 2014 at the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia coinciding with the year of EDCA signing, President Xi Jinping lambasted the American-centered “hub-and-spokes” alliance system in Asia.
He described it as the emblem of “anachronistic “Cold War security structure” where “some big powers pursue security as a zero-sum game and keep strengthening military alliances in the region while excluding the common interests of other countries.”
Xi also criticized US alliance system where EDCA is situated as the “Achilles heel” of “constructive efforts towards building a more sustainable, inclusive and win-win regional security order; the primary obstacle to a peaceful Asia.” (The second part will be continued in the January 21 issue of Manila Standard)
(Rommel C. Banlaoi, PhD, is the President of the Philippine Society for Intelligence and Security Studies, Chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research and member of the Board of Directors of the China Southeast Asian Research Center on the South China Sea).