April 4, 2023
MANILA — Malacañang on Monday identified four new locations as additional sites for the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) between the Philippines and the United States.
The Presidential Communications Office (PCO) said the new locations — Camilo Osias Naval Base in Sta. Ana town and Lal-lo Airport in Lal-lo town, both in Cagayan province; Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela province; and Balabac, the southernmost island in Palawan province — were “inspected and assessed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”
The four sites “are seen to boost the disaster response of the country as the locations will also be used for humanitarian and relief operations during emergencies and natural disasters,” a statement posted on the PCO’s website said.
Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson Arsenio Andolong had said earlier that the new sites would not be used as American military bases but, rather, as storage and warehouse facilities.
Access sought earlier
The new locations, however, would allow American troops enough proximity to Taiwan and the West Philippine Sea, which China has effectively occupied following a standoff between its surveillance ships and a Philippine vessel in 2012.
The announcement came ahead of the scheduled 2 + 2 meeting between top defense officials and diplomats in Washington, as well as the largest ever joint Philippine-US Balikatan military exercises set to start next week.
The United States earlier sought access to five locations — two in Cagayan, and one each in Zambales, Isabela, and Palawan provinces. Last month, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he had approved four of those proposed sites.
In a speech to the Philippine Army on the occasion of its 126th anniversary on March 22, Marcos also said US troops and equipment could be stationed in those sites, adding that these locations would “defend our eastern coast.”
The resource-rich Benham Rise lies east of the provinces, including Cagayan, which make up the northeastern seaboard of the Luzon landmass. The President said that geographical feature was considered in determining the new locations.
He also said he spoke with local officials who were not keen at first on hosting US forces, explaining to them the importance of the Edca sites in their areas.
Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba had opposed the inclusion of his province among the new sites, but said last month that the matter was now “the President’s call.”
Edca, which Washington signed with Manila in 2014, allows US troops and equipment to be prepositioned in various locations around the country.
‘Happy and thankful’
So far the five locations under the military pact are Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mactan, Cebu, and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City.
Filipino and American troops are scheduled to hold this month their largest Balikatan joint exercise yet.
The DND welcomed the announcement of the new sites.
“We are so happy and thankful to the president,” acting Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. told reporters on Monday.
The defense official said the selected locations were “very strategic,” particularly the naval base in Sta. Ana, Cagayan, and the island of Balabac in Palawan.
“Balabac is in our sea lanes of communication. It’s an important route where more or less $3 trillion worth of trade passes through and we have a big responsibility in the international community to collectively secure that,” Galvez added.
The Palace did not identify the exact location of the Edca site in Balabac. But there has been a proposal to build an air force base there, while a pier is being built at the Narciso del Rosario Naval Station.
Galvez also said the additional sites were “collectively decided” by both Manila and Washington.
“All those areas were inspected and we looked at the strategic value. It was not requested. We collectively decided their significance in instances like future Balikatan exercises,” he said.