December 2, 2022
MANILA – President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on Thursday said the United States had made “many requests and proposals” concerning the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca), the most recent military accord between the Philippines and its treaty ally.
The President told reporters that these requests were being reviewed by the Philippine government.
“So, all of that is under study now to see what is really feasible and what will be the most useful for the defense of Philippine territory,” he said.
While Mr. Marcos did not mention specifics, he earlier disclosed that the Americans proposed joint military exercises and “the use of our bases” during his meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris in Malacañang on Nov. 21.
The eight-year-old Edca, which allows the United States to preposition military materiel, aid supplies and personnel in select Philippine military bases to allow it to quickly respond to crises and natural disasters, was also discussed during his meeting with Harris, according to Mr. Marcos, who did not give details.
“I think by early next year, we will have something more concrete to tell you,” he told reporters after the Kadiwa ng Pasko caravan in Quezon City on Thursday.
Edca, which was signed in April 2014 before then US President Barack Obama’s visit to Manila, would help the United States boost its presence again in the region where China now dominates, especially in the disputed waters in the South China Sea.
Under the agreement, US troops and equipment are now allowed into five Philippine bases—the 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.
Although these bases are yet to be fully utilized by the Americans, Washington has already expressed its desire to have access to five more, particularly those close to Taiwan, according to Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Bartolome Vicente Bacarro.
The 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, the mother security pact between the two allies that commits one side to come to the other’s aid in case of armed attack, “is continuously under negotiation,” Mr. Marcos said.
“I always call it an evolution because things are changing,” he said, without elaborating,
During her meeting with Mr. Marcos, Harris assured the President that “an armed attack on the Philippines armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments.”
“And that is an unwavering commitment that we have to the Philippines,” Harris told Mr. Marcos.
Washington has earmarked $66.5 million over the next two years for, among other expense items, the construction of training, warehouse and other facilities in the first five Philippine bases it had chosen.
Bacarro told reporters in mid-November that the Philippine and the United States were in talks on access to five additional bases, including two in Cagayan province, which is about 400 kilometers from Taiwan, and one in Isabela in northeastern Luzon.
Another base the Americans are looking at is in Zambales and one more in Palawan, both facing the West Philippine Sea, he said.
These areas would still have to be approved by the Department of National Defense and the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Beijing considers Taiwan a province of China and has not renounced plans to take it back. The Taiwan situation has become a concern for both the United States, which has warned China against invading the island nation, and the Philippines, its southern neighbor.
China carried out large-scale military drills, including firing missiles over Taipei in early August, following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. The Chinese have continued such activities since although on a smaller scale.
Before Philippine senators voted to terminate the 1947 Military Bases Agreement with the US in 1991, the Americans kept a large presence in strategic bases at Clark and Subic Bay in Central Luzon. They also operated the Wallace Air Station in La Union province, which is now being used by the Philippine Air Force.