The Philippine government yesterday hailed a new accord giving the US military access to five of its bases, saying this would strengthen its defensive capabilities and maritime security.
The agreement between the two close allies comes as the Philippines and other countries are embroiled in a tense dispute with China over conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea.
Under the agreement, US forces would be able to rotate through five Philippine bases, including those close to the South China Sea.
“The five agreed locations... reaffirms the shared committment of the Philippines and US to strengthening their alliance in terms of ensuring both countries’ mutual defense and security,” Department of Foreign Affiars (DFA) spokesman Charles Jose said in a statement.
It was echoed by the Department of National Defense (DND), saying the presence of United States troops and equipment in five camps of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) agreed upon by Philippine and United States officials will surely boost the military’s capability.
Peter Paul Galvez, spokesman for DND, stressed that the five AFP facilities were mutually agreed upon by senior defense and foreign affairs officials of the Philippines and the US under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
Aside from boosting the AFP’s capability, the presence of US troops and facilities will also improve the AFP’s efforts on humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR).
During a dialog in Washington last week, US and Philippines officials agreed to use Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, Palawan; Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija; Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro, and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mactan.
It will be noted that Subic Bay and Clark Air Base, both former US military bases, were not in the list. However, US ships have become common site in Subic and there are times that US aircraft utilizes Clark in Pampanga.
The Philippine and US sides reached the agreement on the EDCA venues during the 6th Bilateral Strategic Dialogue, co-chaired by Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel and Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear for the US, and Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Evan Garcia and Undersecretary of National Defense Pio Lorenzo Batino for the Philippines, in Washington.
The EDCA was signed on April 28, 2014 by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg. Met by strong criticisms from various groups, EDCA was questioned before the Supreme Court.
However, the high court declared EDCA as constitutional in January this year.
Under EDCA, the US can not only increase its military presence in the country but also build facilities in local bases under the supervision of the DND-AFP, expanding on the Visiting Forces Agreement.
“They will be allowed to construct or upgrade other facilities (to be used for) 10 years. After, there will be discussions again,” Galvez said.
Meanwhile, the League of Filipino Students (LFS) has tagged President Aquino as a US puppet for allowing the exclusive use of five bases by US military forces, with American servicemen accused of crimes enjoying immunity from suit.
This provision, LFS argued, makes US troopers, airmen and sailors enjoy the same immunity of President Aquino, who happens to be still the chief of state.
“The Aquino government’s puppetry to the US is beyond despicable. Up until the last moments of his term, Aquino continues to allow the wanton surrender of our sovereignty and territorial integrity to a foreign oppressor,” said LFS national chairman Charisse Bañez.
Her criticism came as the Philippines and the US announced the five Agreed Locations locations under the EDCA after the conclusion of their sixth Bilateral Strategic Dialog.
“The return of US military bases in the country also endangers the lives of the Filipino people. We are reminding the government of the atrocities committed by US troops to the Filipino people. During their decades of stay in Subic and Clark, they sexually harassed our women and shot our people for fun. When the US troops returned to the Philippines through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the human rights violations committed by American soldiers continue. The list of violations by the US troops during their stay in the country has become too long,” Bañez added.
Bañez said that the return of US military bases in the Philippines only spells doom for the Filipino people.
With Gerry Baldo and AFP