U.S. vows to give PH full control of military facilities
PAMPANGA, Philippines – It won't be like Zamboanga this time, the United States assured the Philippines.
US Ambassador Sung Kim said the military facilities the superpower will build under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) will be accessible to Filipinos, unlike the arrangement in the now-defunct Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) in Mindanao.
The two treaty allies held a groundbreaking ceremony for the first EDCA site in Basa Air Base in Pampanga on Tuesday, April 17. A multi-purpose storage facililty will be built here to kickstart the long-delayed implementation of the military deal signed in 2014.
"All EDCA facilities are under complete control of the Philippines. They are all [inside] Philippine bases so, obviously, the Philippine military will have total control over these facilities," Kim said on Tuesday.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana expects as much. "It will be under our control, but when the Americans are here, they will have free use of those facilities," Lorenzana said.
WATCH: PH Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and US ambassador Sung Kim lead groundbreaking for 1st EDCa site in Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga. They're joined by PH Air Force chief Gen Kintanar and AFP J5 Gen Padilla @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/8I642eIvKV— Carmela Fonbuena (@carmelafonbuena) April 17, 2018
EDCA is an agreement that allows the US military to construct facilities and pre-position defense assets inside Philippine military bases.
The military deal signed in 2014 was likened to JSOTF-P, which allowed the US to build "semi-permanent" facilities (container vans as offices) inside Philippine bases in Mindanao.
At JSOTF-P's peak, up to 1,200 US troops rotated in Mindanao 6 months at a time. They were not supposed to participate in combat. They were there to train, assist, and advice Filipino troops. (READ: What is EDCA? Look at Zambo's PH-US joint operations)
But JSOTF-P was controversial because of how the Americans refused Filipino officers access to its facilities, something that has caused some tension between the two allies.
This was an important issue during the negotiations for EDCA. Under EDCA, the US military will build facilities inside 5 Philippine military bases, where they would be allowed to pre-position defense assets. (READ: PH primer on EDCA)
JSOTF-P has ended its operations but the Americans still maintain the tightly guarded container vans inside Westmincom.
"The case for the JSOTF is different because they have some classified equipment and information there. But they also share with us those information eventually. Nobody can just get inside even other US personnel if they are not part of the JSOTF. Here (EDCA facility), I think it's just a warehouse. It will be under the control of the Philippines," said Lorenzana.
President Rodrigo Duterte, at the start of his administration, threatened to scrap EDCA. Relations between the two countries have since shown marked improvement.
EDCA will initially focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster response. – Rappler.com