Experts see more EDCA sites tagged in PHL


THE United States will put up and occupy more sites in strategic locations across the Philippines for American forces as Washington pursues its China containment while ensuring a quick response to help Taiwan if it is attacked by Beijing, according to projections by some experts.

The allocation of additional sites located inside Philippine military camps for rotating US forces and their equipment is gaining both rejection and acceptance, also from experts. On one hand they say it will stoke more tensions with China, but on the other hand, will also bring internal and territorial security stability, especially in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) and West Philippine Sea (WPS), which Beijing is also disputing.

Professor Bobby Tuazon, former head of the political science program at the University of the Philippines, said there have been statements especially by the Philippine government last week that more sites would be made available for visiting US troops under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). Beijing had slammed this, seeing it as a cover by the US to help Taiwan in case China pursues its threat to get back what it deems its renegade province (Formosa), even if it must use force.

The US and the Philippines originally allotted five sites for EDCA, but recently expanded this with the identification of four more agreed locations, two of them inside two sites in the province of Cagayan, where officials led by its Governor, Manuel Mamba, object.

“Aside from the nine EDCA sites, mostly in Luzon, there will be more sites,” said Tuazon, the current director for policy studies of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, during a forum on EDCA by the Alpha Phi Beta of the UP College of Law on Saturday. “That certainly will cause additional tension with the Chinese.”

The forum was also attended virtually by other fraternity members, including Pacifico Agabin, the former dean of UP’s College of Law; former ambassador and Philippine Permanent Representative to the UN Lauro Baja Jr. and Ericson Baculinao, bureau chief of the NBC News in Beijing.

“EDCA sites will allow American forces to crisscross the Philippines,” Tuazon said, adding that with a good number of US troops in the country, it will “complete” America’s containment of China.

Retired Army General and former executive director of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) Edilberto Adan admitted that China sees the EDCA and its expansion as a threat—as a part of the US effort to contain China—but he said the agreement and even Manila’s military exercises with Washington, including the Balikatan are needed by the Philippines.

“They [Chinese forces] are already here, it is only proper that we should strengthen our defense,” Adan told the Saturday News Forum in Quezon City, which also tackled EDCA and the bilateral military exercise. He took note of China’s presence and its aggressive activities in the KIG and WPS.

Professor Renato de Castro of the Dela Salle University also defended EDCA and the country’s military cooperation and activities with the US.

De Castro said defense and national policy are determined and implemented by the national government and not by the local government when asked about Cagayan’s opposition to the agreement.

“It is for the best interest of the country… it is for our best interest… we are talking here about the country and not just… a single province,” he said.

During the UP forum, Baculinao said there are prevailing thoughts in China that the US is using the Philippines to “encircle” Beijing and there were concerns that Manila would be drawn into the “Taiwan conflict.”

Speaking on a personal note and not as the bureau chief of the American television network, Baculinao noted some quarters hold the view that the Code of Conduct which ASEAN is hammering out with China will be “hampered” with the Philippines “aligning with the US in the Indo-Pacific.”

He provided a glimpse of Beijing’s strategic directions under Xi Jinping as understood by scholars, which he said include warding off the US containment and dislodging America as the foremost economic and military power.

Baja said the implementation and expansion of EDCA is significant, especially for the Philippines as it will accord security not only for Manila but the whole region.

“The implementation and expansion of EDCA will alter the equation in the region,” the former ambassador said, noting also its impact on the Taiwan Straits issue and the West Philippine Sea.

He said the expansion of EDCA brings defense and deterrence for the Philippines, which will also make it an “indispensable strategy” by its allies.

Dismissing China’s criticisms of EDCA and also defending the holding of Balikatan, Baja said “territorial defense” is a legitimate act of any country.”