By Carmela Fonbuena | Rappler.com
MANILA, Philippines – Is there a basis for critics of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) to be concerned that the deal allows the United States to build facilities anywhere in the Philippines?
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr thinks so. “As the EDCA is signed, there are no limitations,” the senator concluded during the Senate hearing on EDCA on Tuesday, May 13.
Marcos said he saw the benefits of US military assistance in the case of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) but expressed concerns that the military deal may have been rushed so it would be more favorable to the US than to the Philippines.
“It would seem to me that nothing in the agreement precludes any area,” Marcos added.
The EDCA expands existing cooperation activities between the Philippines and US to include two new activities. The US military can build military facilities and preposition defense assets in “agreed locations” that are yet to be determined by the two countries.
While EDCA limits the “agreed locations” to existing Philippine military bases, Marcos noted the possibility of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) suddenly establishing new bases just because the Americans asked for it.
This is appearing to be the direction in the case of former US military base in Subic, Zambales.
Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, chair of the Philippine panel in the negotiations, said the agreed locations would also be limited to areas that the AFP had determined to be “strategic” for the mutual interests of the US and the Philippines. By "strategic," he was speaking in terms of maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
But Marcos responded: “We are an archipelagic country and that would mean anywhere.”
EDCA was negotiated upon the request of the Philippines for increased US military assistance in the wake of escalating tension between the Philippines and China over maritime disputes. While there are senators who support the request for US military assistance, there are those who feel that the deal needed Senate ratification.
Case Study: Former Subic base
The US used to have a large naval base in Subic but they were forced to leave following a Senate vote in 1991 not to renew the treaty.
There is currently no military installation in Subic but the AFP is finalizing a Memorandum of Agreement with the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) to build one.
Will EDCA allow the Americans to return to the old US naval base?
Batino said the matter would still have to be discussed with their counterparts in the US panel. But he concedes that it is possible once the AFP gets access to Subic and the AFP allows it to become one of the agreed locations.
“The requisite on the part of the Philippine panel is that AFP must previously establish a presence before that location can be an option,” said Batino.
He added: “With respect to Subic, your honor, may we emphasize that the AFP has been requesting for presence in at least limited portions of the Subic area, for the AFP to be able to have their existing equipment and vessels, and planes and modern defense equipment it will be procuring later on.”
Batino added that there’s a long procedure and consultations before the AFP can put up a new base anywhere in the country.
Subic is in Zambales, the province where the disputed Panatag Shoal (Scarborough) is annexed to. The shoal, located within the country’s exclusive economic zone, is now practically occupied by the Chinese Coast Guard following a tense standoff with the Philippine Navy.