March 23, 2023
MANILA — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday confirmed that the United States would be allowed to station troops and equipment in four more sites around the country, days after China warned that allowing more sites under the PH-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) would “seriously harm” the Philippines.
“There are four extra sites scattered around the Philippines. There are some in the north. There are some around Palawan. There are some further south,” Marcos said at the celebration of the Philippine Army’s 126th anniversary.
The president did not identify the new locations, but the 2014 Edca already allows the United States to temporarily station troops and equipment in five sites: Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan and Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.
Marcos said the Philippines and the United States would announce the four new sites soon, but he also mentioned that the additional Edca locations would also “defend our eastern coast.”
“That’s also something we have to look out for,” the president said, adding that the government must also protect the country’s waters off the country’s eastern seaboard, particularly the Benham Rise.
He said local governments that “had interposed some objections” now support the possibility of being hosts to US troops.
“We explained to them why it was important that we have that and why it will actually be good for their province,” he said.
On March 20, acting Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba withdrew his opposition and now welcomes being one of the additional Edca sites.
Cagayan already hosts the Cagayan Economic Zone in Sta. Ana town, a freeport of more than 54,118 hectares of land that includes Port Irene, which used to be the biggest revenue source of the Port of Aparri Customs district.
The Sta. Ana freeport is even larger, but less developed, than the 32,000-ha Clark Air Base, which used to be a US military facility.
The freeport is only 270 nautical miles (500 kilometers) from Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
Except for the United States, Mr. Marcos did not mention any other country in his remarks at the Army anniversary celebration, but China’s foreign ministry on March 12 said Manila’s decision to open more sites under the Edca would drag the country into “the Taiwan question.”
“Those visionary people all asked the soul-searching questions: If the new sites are located in Cagayan and Isabela, which are close to Taiwan, does the US really intend to help the Philippines in disaster relief with these Edca sites? And is it really in the national interest of the Philippines to get dragged by the US to interfere in the Taiwan question?” the Chinese Embassy said in a statement.
But the president stopped short of announcing any foreign policy changes, particularly the resumption of Philippine recognition of Taiwan, which his father and namesake, former President Ferdinand Marcos, reset in establishing diplomatic ties with Beijing in 1975.
Marcos instead said that the military must be ready to defend the country amid the “emerging threat to our territory,” adding that the external security environment is becoming “more complex” and “more unpredictable.”