Table of Contents Hide
The Americans might not have categorically answered on how they will back up their avowed “ironclad commitment” to the Philippines in the wake of the ongoing tensions with China in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), but they will certainly maintain a larger presence in the country in the coming months.
This was after Indo-Pacific Command chief Admiral John Aquilino and Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. on Thursday, September 14, said that they are both recommending increasing the number of Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites in the country.
The two officials issued the statement shortly after the annual Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) meeting held in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, last week.
“General Brawner and I may make recommendations to our senior leaders for the consideration of additional sites, but there is still work to do there before we get to that answer,” Aquilino said.
Aquilino added that both he and Brawner will talk to their “bosses” about the matter and these senior leaders will be the ones making the decisions on whether to go ahead with having these additional EDCA sites in the Philippines.
He did not give an exact timetable on when these recommendations will be operationalized, but revealed that 63 more projects have been agreed for construction in the nine EDCA sites earlier approved by the two countries.
These will be added to the 32 projects earlier allocated.
Aquilino emphasized that the US has also had an “investment of $110 million to those sites to build capability capacity for the AFP to use every day and for the United States to fall in on when invited.”
The five initial EDCA sites are the Cesar Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija; Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro; Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, Palawan; and Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.
The four additional are the Naval Base Camilo Osias in Santa Ana, Cagayan; Lal-lo Airport in Lal-lo, Cagayan; Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela; and Balabac Island in Palawan.
These locations strengthen the interoperability of the US and Philippine militaries, enabling the forces to respond more seamlessly together to address a range of shared challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.
500 military activities slated for 2024
AS this developed, the recently concluded MDB-SEB between the Philippines and the US saw both parties agreeing to conduct “over 500 activities” for next year.
During the meeting, US and Philippine military leaders agreed to over 500 joint activities scheduled for 2024 to include exercises, high-level exchanges between the allied nations and capability building in maritime security, combatting terrorism and transnational crimes, cybersecurity, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and many other national security interests.
The number of participating troops and assets from both sides was not revealed for security reasons.
“These underscore the continued partnership and collaboration between the Philippines and the United States in enhancing national defense capabilities, as well as the shared commitment to regional security and disaster response efforts,” Brawner said.
He added that this signifies the AFP’s commitment to further strengthen cooperation with its US counterparts, ensuring that both militaries are equipped and well prepared to respond to evolving security challenges.
The successful completion of the MDB-SEB furthers cooperation between the US and the Philippines and renews their shared commitment to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and the joint pursuit of a free and open Indo-Pacific region against a backdrop of a rules-based international order.
The MDB was established in 1958 and the SEB was established in 2006.
The two boards form the framework that directs and enables defense and security cooperation between the US and Philippine militaries.
Footing the EDCA bill
AS this developed, Brawner clarified that the Philippine government also spends for the development of the EDCA sites as these are located in its existing camps and bases.
“Let me also add that when we talk about EDCA sites, these are [located within] existing Philippine camps or bases, we are just opening this up for shared use with our counterpart with our only ally the United States because we believe that doing certain things together would bring more value; some of these EDCA sites would be designed specifically for joint training,” he added.
And while the US is spending for the development of these sites with the construction of several projects, the Philippines is also doing the same to make these facilities sustainable for Filipino personnel.
MEANWHILE, Brawner and Aquilino appreciated the steady progress being made in the development of the projects under the EDCA during their visit to Cagayan on September 13.
Aside from the two, US Ambassador Marykay Carlson also joined the inspection trip in Lal-lo Airport and Naval Base Camilo Osias in Cagayan, as well as Basa Air Base in Pampanga.
“The work that [General Brawner’s] team has done in coordination with our team to further advance capabilities here in the Philippines is truly impressive. We’re very pleased. I was here a year ago, and the progress of the runway and all the sites is moving at a great pace, thanks to our strong partnership,” Aquilino said.
Meanwhile, Brawner expressed optimism that more of the projects will become operational by next year to support joint exercises and operations.
“We are very pleased with the progress of these projects, and we are highly optimistic that next year, more of these projects will be operational, allowing us to engage in joint exercises and operations immediately,” the AFP chief said.
Both military officials said all EDCA sites are sovereign Philippine territory and added that all future projects will undergo vetting by the Philippine government for consideration in future operations and mutual benefit.
Defense Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr. earlier said there is a need to expedite the development of all nine EDCA sites, which are set up for logistical purposes.
“The EDCA is purely a logistical site of the United States to help us speed up operational tempo and response; these are non-offensive,” Teodoro explained.
He, however, clarified those Filipino assets that will be deployed or positioned in EDCA sites “are Philippine national security items for our territorial defense.”
US aircraft operating with PHL forces
MEANWHILE, Brawner said there is nothing alarming about seeing US military aircraft operating aside from Filipino units.
“If you are referring to the airplanes that [were] seen during the resupply missions, let me tell you that this is nothing new. During the Marawi Siege we also received the same kind of technical support from our ally, the United States, and even our partner, the Australian Defense Force,” he stressed.
Brawner was referring to the US Navy P-8 “Poseidon” maritime patrol aircraft seen overhead during the two recent resupply missions to Filipino troops aboard the BRP Sierra Madre (LS-57) in the Ayungin Shoal, WPS.
And in the case of the Marawi Siege, which ran from May to October 2017, the AFP chief said that the “technical assistance” received from these aircraft was “critical in identifying the position of the Maute ISIS.”
He added that this also allows the AFP to be very precise in its targeting.
“If you recall even our former President then gave the order for us to be very precise in our airstrike operations; we were given the restriction of not hitting mosques, for instance, and other facilities like hospitals and schools, so with the technical help that we were receiving from the United States and Australia, these made our operations even more effective,” Brawner noted.
Same rule for PHL, US warships
AQUILINO emphasized that it is usual for Philippine and US warships to patrol jointly as the militaries of the two nations are allies and have been operating together for many years.
“The Philippines and the United States have been operating together for decades, so under the title of joint patrols, just recently on the 4th of September, we executed the first one that was aligned, designed, and built by General Brawner’s team and my team executed with approval from our leaders,” he added.
Aquilino said such operations would continue to ensure that freedom of the seas and peace can be maintained.
“And we’ll continue to do that for a long term, ultimately to ensure that we can maintain the freedom of the seas, freedom of airspace so that all the nations in the region can enjoy peace and prosperity,” he noted.
On September 4, Filipino and American warships conducted a “bilateral sail” in waters off the western part of Palawan province.
The activity highlights the “robust maritime cooperation” between the two nations.
“The activity is done under the MDB-SEB framework that aims to develop operational interoperability between the navies of the two countries,” the AFP said in an earlier statement.
The AFP deployed the Navy’s guided-missile frigate, BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150), while the US Navy deployed the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, the USS Ralph Johnson (DDG-114).
The AFP chief earlier said the successful conduct of this year’s MDB-SEB affirmed the steadfast commitment of the Philippines and the United States in safeguarding the country and the Indo-Pacific Region.
“I am pleased to stand before you following the successful conclusion of the MDB-SEB meeting. The meeting was marked by fruitful discussions and strategic collaboration, reaffirming the steadfast commitment of the Philippines and the United States in safeguarding our nation and the Indo-Pacific Region,” he added.
In line with this, the AFP expressed its commitment to “addressing the dynamic and evolving challenges that confront our nation’s security.”