EDITORIAL - Credible defense

The Philippine Star

Strategic partnerships are important, President Marcos says, in dealing with a “terribly complicated situation” and “troubled waters.” Along this line, he has approved the expansion of US military access to Philippine facilities.

Yesterday, the defense secretaries of the two countries announced that four new sites would be identified for increased American military access under the 2014 Philippines-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. The four are in addition to five existing EDCA sites where the US is providing $82 million for infrastructure development.

The new sites will still have to be announced, but at least one of them is expected to face the South China Sea, where Beijing has been constructing artificial islands to enforce its so-called nine-dash-line claim over nearly the entire area.

Visiting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin emphasized that the expanded access will not entail permanent basing arrangements for US troops. Austin and his Philippine counterpart Carlito Galvez also said the four new “agreed locations” would be picked in consultation with affected local communities. Activities at the sites will include joint military training exercises, disaster response as well as counterterrorism.

The existing EDCA sites are located at Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan; Basa Air Base in Pampanga where fighter planes of the Philippine Air Force are based; Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija; the Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City.

Yesterday’s announcement was the most dramatic indication yet that the avowed pivot to China pursued by the Duterte administration is shifting gears. While the Marcos administration continues to engage with Beijing especially on economic matters, Manila is strengthening security ties with its long-standing treaty ally Washington. Austin has committed greater US support for Philippine military modernization. The two countries are also reported to be planning joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea.

Progressive groups are protesting the agreement to pick four more agreed sites under EDCA. But the Department of National Defense, in a statement, declared that expansion of the EDCA “will make our alliance stronger and more resilient and will accelerate the modernization of our combined military capabilities.”

“The Philippine-US alliance has stood the test of time and remains ironclad. We look forward to the opportunities these new sites will create to expand our cooperation together,” the statement added.

While strengthening alliances, the country should also move to boost its self-defense capability. Philippine security officials have been talking for years about the need to develop credible self-defense capability, with no reliance on outside help. At the very least, the country should have its own resources to monitor and patrol its maritime area. It makes for tighter alliances based on mutual respect.



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