MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – Hours before the arrival of US President Barack Obama in Manila, the Philippines and the United States signed on Monday, April 28, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) which allows American troops more access to Philippine military facilities.
“It’s an initial term of 10 years but there will be a regular consultations between the 2 parties to review the implementation of the agreement,” said Philippine Ambassador Lourdes Yparraguirre, a member of the Philippine panel that negotiated the agreement.
There is no ceiling for the number of American troops who can visit the Philippines. “It depends on the activities agreed upon by the countries,” Yparraguirre added.
The deal also allows the US to construct facilities and upgrade infrastructures, store and preposition defense and disaster preparedness equipment, supplies, and materiel. The buildings and infrastructure will become the property of the Philippines. (READ: PH primer on military pact with US)
During the talks, the US wanted to limit access of Filipino troops to the facilities they will build. The panels agreed to give the AFP base commander access to the “entire area of the agreed locations.”
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador to Manila Philip Goldberg signed the deal in Camp Aguinaldo. It’s an agreement that was described by Malacañang as an affirmation of “the robust and enduring strategic partnership between the two countries.”
In his speech, Goldberg gave assurances the US does not intend to set up military bases here. “I will tell you what it will not do. It will not reopen US bases,” Goldberg said.
The EDCA , he stressed, “will serve to update our security alliance to meet the increasingly complex challenges of the 21st century.”
Gazmin for his part said the deal reflects a maturing relationship between the two allies. “This is the essence of a maturing relationship. This is the spirit behind this agreement.”
The deal is only a framework agreement, with the details – such as how many US troops will rotate through the Philippines and when – to be negotiated and announced later.
Some sectors have criticized how both governments negotiated the deal, saying the talks were not transparent.
PH panel member ambassador Lourdes Yparraguirre comments on the deal below.
Writing for Rappler, experts said the EDCA “features a reconfiguration of the Philippine-US bilateral security partnership towards the development of a minimum credible defense posture in light of the changing geostrategic environment.” (READ: PH-US security relations: Deepening the alliance)
Attention to Asia
It comes amid ongoing tensions between the Philippines and China over disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The Philippines has sought the military assistance of the US, a treaty ally, to shore up its weak defenses while the United States is refocusing its attention to Asia. (READ: Obama’s visit: The likely issues)
Obama is expected to arrive in the country at 1:30 pm Monday, and will proceed to Malacañang for bilateral talks with President Benigno Aquino III, followed by a joint press conference. He will be feted to a Palace dinner in his honor. (Watch our live coverage here)
Topics to be discussed by the leaders when they meet in Malacañang are political and security cooperation, trade and investments expansion, tourism and development cooperation, deepening people-to-people ties, and the rehabilitation of areas affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).
Obama will spend the second day of his trip with Filipino troops at the Philippine Army’s headquarters in Taguig and is expected to visit the World War II American cemetery in the same city.
Coming to Asia, the US was expected to argue that its rebalancing policy – of withdrawing US military, economic and human resources from the Middle East and deploying them to emerging Asia – remains on track.
In Japan, Obama pledged support for Tokyo, which is also in the midst of a territorial dispute with China. He gave assurances to their ally that US support will continue, adding the islands claimed by both countries are covered by a defense treaty that would oblige Washington to act if they were attacked. – Rappler.com