COUNTERING terrorism in Mindanao is one top reason why the country "cooperates" with the United States of America through the controversial Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca), a top official of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said.
Lieutenant General Eduardo Año, commanding general of the Philippine Army, said that with or without the approval of Edca, groups claiming to be part of the Islamic State (Isis) militants remains a threat especially in the island.
"I believe yung threats galing sa Isis, with or without Edca, ay talagang andyan pero siyempre, isa sa kooperasyon natin with United States is yung counter-terrorism, isa rin yan sa mga pinaglalaanan natin ng pagsasanay at paghahanda," Año said in an interview during his visit in Cagayan de Oro City last March 23.
He added there are no identified Islamic terror group in Mindanao; however, there are existing groups who demand support from Isis.
"Walang Isis sa ating monitoring, pero may mga grupo ditong pilit kinukuha ang attention ng Isis para sila ay kilalanin at bigyan ng suporta pero kahit ano pang gawin nila, kung wala sa panuntunan ng Isis, hindi naman sila mabibigyan ng acknowledgment or recognition," Año stressed.
Recently, the Philippine government and the US announced the five agreed Edca sites – Antonio Bautista Air Base in the western island of Palawan; Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija; Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mactan; and Cagayan de Oro City’s old Lumbia airport which is home to the Tactical Operations Group (TOG 10) of the Philippine Air Force.
A security expert at De La Salle University in Manila, Richard Javad Heydarian, was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying that the inclusion of Lumbia reflected the “serious concern” in both Manila and Washington about efforts by Islamic State to establish a foothold on Mindanao.
Heydarian told The Wall Street Journal that “counter-terror operations continue to be a key element of American military footprint in the region.”
Año said the presence of a US facility in the city will boost the military's exercises and preparedness against any terror groups.
Año, likewise, clarified there will be no changes in the Army's command adding that the US will only store humanitarian equipment and bring more US military troops in the five Edca sites.
"Meaning to say, kung dati limited lang yung ginagawa nating mga exercises, ngayon mas marami na tayong exercises na magaganap sa buong taon, makakahawak na din ng mga bagong kagamitan ang ating mga kasundalohan," he said.
Protests against Edca are welcomed, Año said, adding that progressive groups rallying against development projects are not new.
"Karapatan nila yan, pero pag titingnan natin yan sila, pare-pareho lang ang kanilang mga mukha. Kahit kasi anong gawin ng pamahalaan, makikitaan nila yan ng mali," he added.
There is still no timetable yet on the establishment of the said US facility at Lumbia, Año said.
Año was at the Camp Evangelista on March 23 together with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin as guest during the change of command ceremony of the 4th Infantry Division with its new commanding general Major General Benjamin Madrigal Jr.; while its former commander Major General Oscar Lactao is the new AFP Inspector General and will be based on Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.