By Christian V. Esguerra | INQUIRER.net
MANILA, Philippines—Did the Philippines get the short end of the stick in its new defense agreement with the United States?
Senators on Tuesday grilled members of the Philippine panel that negotiated the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US, raising issues such as the duration of the actual stay of US troops in the country and the military bases that would be made available to them.
While saying the EDCA did not have to be renegotiated, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. pointed to portions of the agreement that were purportedly disadvantageous to the Philippines.
Marcos cited Article 5 of the agreement, which mentioned “possible compensation” to be provided to the US “for improvements or construction” that US troops would make inside specific areas of Philippine military facilities, also known as “agreed locations.”
During the hearing of the Senate committee on national defense and security, chief negotiator Pio Lorenzo Batino said “constructed buildings and other permanent structures will automatically be owned by the Philippine government.”
But Marcos complained, saying in Filipino: “We would still pay for what they would construct. It says so here. So it appears that we were put at a disadvantage in this deal.”
Ambassador Lourdes Yparraguirre, a member of the Philippine panel, cited the “concept of shared and joint use of infrastructure upgrades, as well as prepositioning of materials” contained in EDCA.
“It can help accelerate the AFP modernization program because the program can begin even before we are able to purchase the necessary defense systems,” she told the committee.
“Maritime security and maritime domain awareness can be given a boost even before we can have the ships and the aircraft that the Philippines needs.”
Marcos asked the panel whether the Philippines under the EDCA could put up new military facilities just to accommodate choices by the US for “agreed locations.” Batino said it was “possible” but explained that the decision would have to go through the Mutual Defense Board.
Two possible “agreed locations” came up at the hearing, the former US naval base in Subic, Zambales and Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.