EDCA to boost defense posture, allow new joint activities
MANILA, Philippines – The PH-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) allows the timely delivery and positioning of US defense equipment in the Philippines to help ensure maritime security, according to Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, chairman of the Philippine panel that negotiated the deal with the US.
Prepositioning of equipment is one of 2 new activities that EDCA allows as far as American troops in the Philippines are concerned. The other activity is the construction of new military facilities or the upgrade of existing ones.
"We need help in terms of our capability gaps right now in terms of disaster relief and maritime domain awareness. The timely prepositioning of equipment here, subject to agreement of parties, would more expeditiously address our concerns," Batino told Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa in a #TalkThursday interview on May 1.
"There is recognition that we still lack some modern defense equipment for our defense posturing," Batino added.
The 1951 PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), he said, allows these new activities. He is confident the new deal does not need Senate ratification and will survive legal challenges.
The threat of China
Batino welcomed the statement of US President Barack Obama on the "ironclad" commitment of the US to defend the Philippines.
"It is a strong message and we favor that message," he said.
The Philippines sought US military assistance in the wake of escalating tension in the South China Sea (West Philippines Sea). The request also coincides with the US strategy to rebalance to the Pacific.
Aside from prepositioned equipment that could be used to address concerns on maritime security, Batino said there will also be greater information sharing between the two allies. "We anticipate that there would be even greater information sharing between our 2 militaries to help each others mandate," he said.
Still, Batino said EDCA is supposedly the "natural progression" of military cooperation between the 2 countries even without the threat of China.
"After 15 year of joint training exercies, both parties recognize that we can still elevate the defense cooperation between the Philippines and US. And thus EDCA," Batino said.
PH will have 'final say'
EDCA imposes no limits on the number of troops who can visit, and it doesn't specify which types of assets Americans can bring in or the location of military activities. Batino explained that the deal has to be flexible to address the operational needs of the two militaries.
"The AFP and the Philippine govenrment would have a last say before any activites would be implemented," Batino said.
Batino added: "According to some critics, the whole Philippine territory has been transformed into one whole US facility. This is not true. We are only eyeing several AFP bases to sufficiently implement this program."
US may bring in fighter jets
The Armed Forces of the Philippines is acquiring assets – brand new fighter jets and frigates – to achieve minimum defense posture, but Batino said these assets will take years to be delivered.
If the Philippines will allow it, Batino said the US can bring in these assets while the AFP is waiting for new ones.
"While waiting for the delivery of these modern defense equipment, if the parties will agree, similar modern equipment will be prepositioned here so our future pilots could be trained prior to the delivery," Batino said. – Rappler.com