MANILA, Philippines – Armed Forces chief of staff General Gregorio Catapang Jr stressed the “importance” of the swift implementation of the Philippines’ expanded military deal with the US as he is scheduled to discuss its details next week with the chief of the US Pacific Command.
“We hope that the Supreme Court rules on it immediately. Is it a go? Or no go? This is something that is of national security. Kung ayaw nila, desisyunan nila. Kung gusto naman nila, desisyunan na rin nila para yung ating security posture hindi naaalangan. Very important po ‘yung ating napirmahan na kasunduan sa ating mga American counterparts,” Catapang told Rappler in a recent interview.
(“If they don’t want it [military deal], they should decide. If they want it, they should also decide so that our security posture doesn’t hang in the balance. The signed agreement with our American counterparts is very important.”)
US Pacific Command chief Admiral Samuel Locklear III will meet with Catapang next week, October 13-14. Military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc said they will meet at the military headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo for the regular Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) meeting.
The Philippines has long sought the help of the US military as the maritime tension with China over the West Philipine Sea (South China Sea) continues to escalate. The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was signed in April but petitions were immediately filed against it on grounds that, among other arguments, it was not ratified by the Senate. (READ: Declare EDCA unconstitutional, SC asked)
The High Court is not likely to take it up in time for the meeting however, according to a source in the Supreme Court who refused to be named because he is not authorized to speak about it. “Chances are it will be taken up towards the end of the year,” the source said.
The regular MDB-SEB typically discusses trainings between the two militaries like Balikatan and PHIBLEX. While the EDCA implementation was put on hold, Catapang said they should discuss the details so it can be implemented immediately should the SC give it the go-signal.
“Where do they want to preposition their humanitarian equipment? And what are the areas that can developed for the prepositioning?,” Catapang said.
“The planning should be continuous so it can be executed immediately… If it’s a go, we already have plans. If it’s a no go, we will keep it in the filing cabinet,” said Catapang.
EDCA expands existing cooperation activities between the Philippines and the US to increase the presence of American troops in the Philippines and to include two new activities. The US military can build military facilities and preposition defense assets in “agreed locations” that have yet to be determined by the two countries.
Under the agreement, these details will be decided by Catapang and Locklear as co-chairs of the Mutual Defense Board.
The Philippines earlier announced plans to offer the Oyster Bay naval outpost in Palawan and the Naval Education and Training Command in Zambales, both facing the West Philippine Sea. – Rappler.com