Governors split on hosting of new EDCA sites

Romina Cabrera - The Philippine Star
Governors split on hosting of new EDCA sites
Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba continues to oppose one of the four EDCA bases that will be set up in his province.
Philstar.com / Efigenio Toledo IV, File

MANILA, Philippines — Governors are split on the planned areas under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that the United States will be allowed to use in their provinces.

Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba continues to oppose one of the four EDCA bases that will be set up in his province.

“I personally oppose this and I disagree with it. For me, it is inimical to the interest of our provinces and the Cagayanons,” he told ABS-CBN News yesterday.

Still, Mamba submitted that it is ultimately President Marcos’ call, even if he is against it due to the possible adverse effects it may cause his constituents.

Earlier, the governor told “The Chiefs” on Cignal TV’s One News channel that he wants peace with China and that he does not see any threat from the superpower.

In another part of the Cagayan Valley region, Gov. Rodolfo Albano III of Isabela said that he cannot decline the potential benefits his province can gain from hosting an EDCA site.

He cited the investments to the tune of $82 million and consider them a means to developing the eastern seaboard in terms of a port and access roads from the Sierra Madre mountains.

Albano allayed fears of a possible war between China and the US and dismissed claims that the Asian superpower would invade Taiwan similar to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the provincial government of Palawan has expressed support for the inclusion of one of its islands as a proposed location for an EDCA site.

The provincial government said it believes that the sites will enhance the mobility of the US and the Philippines in responding to challenges in the region.

Malacañang earlier this week named four locations that it deemed “suitable and mutually beneficial” for EDCA sites that would be accessible to US troops.

These are the Camilo Osias Naval Base in Sta. Ana, Cagayan; La-lo Airport in La-lo, Cagayan; Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela and Balabac Island in Palawan.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has already inspected and assessed the sites, which Malacañang said is seen to boost the country’s disaster response and humanitarian and relief operations.

Phl, US to hold 2+2

Next week, the Philippines and the US are holding a policy-level dialogue in Washington, bringing together both countries’ top foreign affairs and defense officials to advance partnerships and common priorities.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo and Defense Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr. will lead the Philippine delegation to the 3rd Philippines-United States 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, the first in seven years, from April 10 to 12.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III will lead the US side at the meeting, which is aimed at reaffirming the two allied countries’ commitments to treaties and priorities.

Established in 2012, the 2+2 builds on the work of the annual Bilateral Strategic Dialogue.

The DFA said Manalo will discuss important global prosperity issues that are aligned with the Philippines’ economic interests such as energy security, strategic trade and investment cooperation, critical and emerging technologies and infrastructure and supply chains.

It said the meeting will also cover concrete initiatives for promoting regional security, achieving mutual economic prosperity, modernizing the alliance and countering terrorism and other transnational crimes.

This third iteration of the 2+2 , the DFA said, is significant as it comes after a seven-year hiatus since the second Ministerial Dialogue was held in 2016.

Protect fishermen

Galvez said the new EDCA sites are expected to boost the AFP’s confidence in more effectively protecting the rights of Filipino fishermen in the country’s western and eastern seaboards.

Though he did not specifically mention the West Philippine Sea, the defense chief said allowing American troops access to the new locations where new infrastructure funded by the US will be put up will definitely boost efforts to ensure Philippine fishing rights are upheld.

“Aside from enhancing our posturing of forces to address both external and internal security threats and challenges, we expect the construction of facilities and infrastructure upgrades to further help us ensure the welfare of our people,” he said in a statement yesterday.

“Our Armed Forces’ strengthened presence in the new locations, especially along our eastern and western seaboards, will enable our troops to quickly respond to distress calls and protect our fishermen’s rights and livelihood to fish in our waters,” he added.

Fishermen, mostly from Palawan, had long been complaining about the harassment they have been experiencing in the West Philippine Sea inside the country’s exclusive economic zone where Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels have been driving them away.

Both the Department of National Defense and AFP said the implementation of projects under EDCA are aligned with the Philippines’ efforts to modernize its alliance with the US to respond effectively to future security challenges, including disasters, humanitarian assistance and climate change.

“The new EDCA sites will not just strengthen the AFP’s capability to protect the people and the state but it will also boost the disaster response capability of the country,” said Gen. Andres Centino, AFP chief of staff.

For her part, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said the US is not seeking permanent bases in the Philippines and gave assurance that activities at the four new EDCA sites would be responsive to the needs and priorities of local communities.

Under EDCA, there are already five existing military sites at Cesar Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija, Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa City and Mactan Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.

Meanwhile, Gabriela Women’s party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas has asked the House of Representatives to conduct a motu proprio investigation on the EDCA operations in the country, claiming they do not serve the interests of Filipinos.

Brosas also said the designation of four new EDCA sites only means spending “more funds for militarism.”

She said economic activities may be boosted in these military sites, but this will cause the Filipinos more taxes. – Pia Lee-Brago, Michael Punongbayan, Ric Sapnu, Sheila Crisostomo

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