MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Three to 5 Philippine military bases are being eyed for the use of US troops under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), according to Philippine panel chairman Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino.
“It is ranging from 3 to 5 AFP bases. That is not final, that is the starting discussion,” Batino said.
Among the 5 locations being studied is Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, a natural choice because it is where Philippines-US Balikatan exercises are often held.
“Fort Magsaysay is an ideal location. It is a big area. We hold Balikatan exercises there. We are still studying it. It is for recommendation,” Batino said.
Watch this report below.
Why Fort Magsaysay?
Fort Magsaysay is the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines 7th Infantry Division (ID) and the Special Operations Command (Socom). The area is under the control of the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom).
The Dingalan Bay, which merges with the Pacific Ocean east of the country, is also owned by the 7th ID. It’s a 6-kilometer frontage that AFP owns. It can serve as a training ground from naval maneuvers.
Fort Magsaysay is also near the disputed Panatag Shoal (Panatag) in the West Philippine Sea, currently occupied by the Chinese Coast Guard. The shoal is a territory of Zambales province, which is separated from Nueva Ecija by the province of Tarlac.
The Philippines used to host a large US naval base in Subic, Zambales until the Philippine Senate voted in 1991 to evict the Americans.
Batino refused to confirm if it is one of the 5 bases being considered.
“The Subic project, I must emphasize, is an AFP project. The AFP is requesting for limited portions of Subic so that it can strategically locate Philippine Air Force equipment and Philippine Navy equipment,” Batino said.
Batino said Subic will serve as the home base of the two warships of the Philippines acquired from the US Coast Guard and the fighter jets that the country is acquiring.
The final locations will be identified in annexes that the panels are yet to complete. Batino said they have started consultations.
The locations will be chosen based on the key mission areas identified by the panels – maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
Watch this earlier interview with Batino on #TalkThursday:
On top of the regular training exercises between the US and Filipino troops, the newly-signed EDCA allows two new joint activities – the construction and upgrade of military facilties and the prepositioning of defense equipment.
Batino said the US will only be allowed to use agreed-upon portions of identified military bases.
No rental fees
The US will not pay rental fees for the use of the military bases.
Batino said this issue has been resolved in the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which was ratified by the Senate.
“VFA provides that landing charges and port charges shall not be imposed on visiting forces of the US. This agreement will be mutually beneficial for both parties. Thus, it is justifiable that there is no rent,” Batino said.
The Philippines sought US military assistance in the wake of escalating maritime disputes with China. The request coincides with the US rebalancing to the Pacific.
Philippine panel member Ambassador Ed Malaya also noted that the US does not pay Japan and South Korea rental fees for the US bases there.
US to operate own telecommunications system
EDCA also allows the US to use its own telecommuncations system.
He said the AFP will be allocating to the US a certain portion of the radio spectrum assigned to the military. Operation of telecommunications system usually requires congressional franchise. Batino said it will not be needed under EDCA.
The Philippines may be able to use modern telecommunication equipment of the US, said Batino.
“All of these could be discussed on the ground. Their equipment, including possibly their telecommunication equipment, could be used for the furtherance of our defense and security services,” he said.
Batino said the panel is ready to face legal questions raised against EDCA. – Rappler.com
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