The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States have built-in protocols and does not allow unlimited access for participating American troops anywhere in the country, the Department of National Defense (DND) said on Saturday.
The Association of Generals and Flag Officers however, expressed support for additional EDCA sites, saying these would enhance the interoperability of US and Philippine defense forces, as well as accelerate the modernization and capability upgrade of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Meanwhile, the Philippines and China have agreed to manage their differences and handle emergencies on the South China Sea (SCS) through “friendly consultations,” the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.
DND spokesman Arsenio Andolong clarified that selection of the EDCA venues must be agreed upon by both countries.
“There are constant consultations with the Mutual Defense Board and Security Exchange Board wherein the US side and the Philippine side are in discussion to plan out activities and these activities determine when the sites are going to be used, how they will be used, what can be brought in, and what they will do in the sites, so it’s not unlimited,” Andolong said at the News Forum in Quezon City.
The EDCA, which allows American troops to access so-called agreed locations in the Philippines on rotation, is effective for an initial term of 10 years unless terminated by either party.
While the US is allowed to bring in troops, along with equipment, supplies, and materiel, the Philippines retains ownership of all EDCA sites.
Andolong added that EDCA locations could also be used for “exercises or in the event of contingencies like disaster and typhoons” but not as permanent basing facilities.
Five EDCA sites were identified after the agreement was signed. These were Cesar Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija; Lumbia Airfield in Cagayan de Oro; Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, Palawan; and Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.
Earlier this year, Manila and Washington agreed on four venues, which according to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. would be in the north, south, and “some around Palawan,” province which faces the disputed West Philippine Sea.
Beijing had previously questioned Washington’s interest to boost its military alliance with Manila through EDCA, claiming it as an attempt to “encircle and contain China.”
Andolong maintained, however, that the 2014 deal was meant to bolster the Philippines’ “territorial defense” and not to pick a fight with China.
“The EDCA, even the Visiting Forces Agreement, was conceptualized without aiming at any particular country,” he said. “It is not our intention to become an aggressor. What we want is defense.”.
It would also improve government responses, like humanitarian assistance and relief operations, for emergencies, and climate-related disasters, the group said.
“The Super Typhoon Yolanda experience in 2013 is a reminder that the proximity of relief centers that could accommodate goods, equipment, and manpower hastens the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” it said in a statement.
“In addition, given the Constitutional mandate to protect the national patrimony in maritime areas where we exercise sovereign rights, our defense forces must continually enhance their capabilities to detect, deter, and counter violators through sustained training and interoperability exercises with allies and partners that share our aspiration to abide by the rules-based international order.”
In a statement, the DFA said both the Philippines and China explored ways to advance maritime cooperation “directed at confidence-building and managing tensions” during the 7th Bilateral Consultations Mechanism (BCM) in Manila.
“During the BCM, the Philippines and China reaffirmed their adherence to international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and their commitment to peace and stability in the South China Sea,” it said.
“Both sides recognized their obligations under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and stressed their resolve to finalize an effective and substantive Code of Conduct.”
The two sides also discussed their respective positions on the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea, alongside the different incidents at sea monitored since 2021.
DFA Undersecretary Maria Theresa Lazaro, who led the Philippine delegation, said Manila “looks forward to a time that the news would no longer report on Philippines-China maritime incidents, but instead focus on mutually beneficial endeavors.”
“I cannot overemphasize that this should start with restraint from aggressive acts,” she said during the BCM.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the meeting resulted in more than 10 items of consensus and outcomes.
The two sides, it said, agreed to further leverage the role of the BCM and “promote practical cooperation in areas such as diplomacy, defense, coast guard, oil and gas development, fisheries, maritime affairs, maritime search and rescue, and marine scientific research and environmental protection.”
Among the subjects discussed were revisiting the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding on Establishing the Joint Coast Guard Committee and the convening of the Annual Defense Security.
New initiatives were also floated, including training and capacity building on aquaculture and marine environment cooperation.
In addition, the two sides agreed to convene the Joint Committee on Fisheries “at an early date.”
The BCM is a confidence-building measure that tackles maritime issues, including the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, marine environmental protection, and fisheries cooperation, among others.
The last BCM was held in 2021.