Duterte gov't rejects U.S. plans to construct in Palawan air base

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines rejected US plans to build facilities at a military air base that is nearest most of the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) – the Bautista Air Base in Palawan – following President Rodrigo Duterte's order to review implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

But Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told Rappler construction in two other military bases will proceed. Construction will start within the year at the Basa Air Base in Pampanga and at the Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro.

"Yes, the EDCA is a go both in Basa and Lumbia. No construction yet but scheduled to start this year," Lorenzana told Rappler on Monday, March 6.

The Basa Air Base is considerably near the disputed Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal), a flashpoint with China, located off the coast of Zambales province.

The Lumbia Air Base, meanwhile, is near the known lair of local terrorists in Central Mindanao. 

Lorenzana did not explain why plans for Bautista Air Base were called off. "Yes, 'yun muna dalawa (just the two in the meantime)," he said.

Duterte had repeatedly threatened to cancel the EDCA, but his advisers appear to have persuaded him to enforce the agreement signed between the previous Aquino and Obama administrations.

The EDCA allows the US to construct facilities and preposition assets inside Philippine military bases, a deal that was declared constitutional by the Philippine Supreme Court.

Duterte's pronouncements, however, have caused confusion.

Last January, Lorenzana announced plans to implement the EDCA in 2017 in the 3 mentioned bases. But the announcement was immediately followed by Duterte's tirades against alleged US activities in the Philippines that supposedly include the "unloading of arms."

"You place us all in danger. You do that and I will be there when you start building, even before you build the first post," Duterte said back in January. 

Lorenzana clarified then that Duterte wasn't canceling the EDCA but was merely ordering a review.

Bautista Air Base has been the launching pad of joint exercises in recent years between the US and the Philippines as the treaty allies joined forces in protesting China's aggressiveness in the South China Sea. 

Reconnaissance planes of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force landed at Bautista Air Base, too, when they joined for the first time maritime patrol exercises in the West Philippine Sea. This was done only once after the lack of a visiting forces treaty with Japan raised constitutionality questions. – Rappler.com