By Andreo Calonzo | GMA News
Any part of the Philippines can become an "agreed location" that US troops can access under the new defense agreement between the two countries, a Department of National Defense (DND) official told a Senate hearing Tuesday.
DND Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, chairman of the Philippine panel which negotiated the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), made the statement during questioning from members of the Senate committees on national defense and foreign relations.
The EDCA authorizes US forces to train, refuel aircraft and preposition their supplies within Philippine territory, in locations that have yet to be specified by both parties.
During the hearing, Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. asked Batino, "Can any part of the Philippines become an agreed location?" Batino replied, "Yes Senator. It is possible."
Batino assured the senators, however, that the pact "provides flexibility" to the Armed Forces of the Philippines in determining the locations to be shared with US troops.
"We expect that this will not be automatic. This will undergo a long series of talks before it is agreed that an installation will be established," Batino told the Senate panel.
He added that the Philippine panel wants "as few agreed locations as possible," and that these locations should promote maritime security.
Before US President Barack Obama's arrival in Manila two weeks ago, Philippine and American officials signed the EDCA, which will allow an enlarged rotational presence of American troops in the country.
Ambassador Eduardo Malaya, another member of the EDCA panel, told the Senate hearing that the locations to be made available for US troops will be "only those that will promote national interest."
"What we are envisioning in agreed locations is not permanent presence but temporary, rotational presence," Malaya said.. "There is no exclusivity in use for the US."
Despite the assurances from the negotiators, Marcos expressed reservations regarding the lack of parameters in EDCA on what can be turned into an agreed location for US troops.
"As it stands, there are no guidelines on what will be agreed locations... Lugi tayo sa usapan," Marcos told members of the EDCA negotiating panel.
He added that the provision in the pact that limits agreed locations to those that promote maritime security seems all-encompassing, since the Philippines is an archipelago.
Marcos further said that the Senate will "anxiously wait" while members of the Philippine panel negotiate with their American counterparts on the access of US troops to certain locations.
Batino earlier said that up to five Philippine military bases may be made available to US forces after they complete the negotiations on agreed locations under the EDCA.
The new defense pact is effective for 10 years.