Manila, Washington list possible EDCA sites

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The Philippines and the United States jumpstarted on Monday the rehabilitation of the runway of Basa Air Base in Pampanga, one of the five original Philippine military sites that have been identified to host rotating American troops and their equipment under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

“After almost eight years of delays and legal challenges, the EDCA implementation is now in full swing. Today, we laid down the time capsule to signify openly the start of the necessary rehabilitation of the Basa Air Base as one of the EDCA priorities,” Department of National Defense Officer-in-Charge Carlito Galvez Jr. said during the event.

Other officials, including the secretary of the US Air Force, Frank Kendall III, were also present during the event.

Galvez said the rehabilitation of the 2,800-meter runway would cost $25 million, excluding “improvements” and the construction of the Wing Operation Center.

“The runway rehabilitation, which is expected to be completed in September 2023, would make Basa Air Base ideal for the efficient conduct of joint task force exercises and as a natural hub for HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster response) operations, especially that we are a disaster-prone country,” he said.

The DND official said that out of the 15 EDCA projects, five have been completed, five are still ongoing and the remaining five are lined up for implementation.

Aside from Basa, the four other original sites that will host American forces and their equipment are Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mactan, Cebu and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro.

The US Embassy in Manila said some $11.4 million has been allocated for EDCA works at Fort Magsaysay; $1.8 million at Antonio Bautista; $2.7 million at Benito Ebuen and $3.7 million at the Lumbia Air Base.

Late last year, Philippine military officials disclosed that the US had asked for four additional sites for the EDCA, and these camps are located in the provinces of Palawan, Zambales, Cagayan and Isabela.

Officials of Cagayan led by Governor Manuel Mamba, however, are not amenable to hosting American forces in the province, but Galvez said on Monday that Mamba has already withdrawn his opposition.

Meanwhile, the military’s Western Command said Senator Imee Marcos, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, visited its headquarters where she discussed her initiative of reviving and strengthening the country’s Self-Reliant Defense Posture (SRDP) with officials and members of the command.

The SRDP was program championed by her father, the late strongman and former President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. in the 1970s, which enabled the country to manufacture its own armaments and produce its indigenous vehicles from mini-cruisers to speed boats.

“Senator Marcos believes that the revival and strengthening of the SRDP Program will be a big boost to the AFP’s (Armed Forces of the Philippines) modernization effort adequately addressing the requirements for the desired defense build-up through maximizing the utilization of indigenous materials,” Wescom spokesman Cdr. Ariel Joseph Coloma said.

During the discussion, Coloma said that the Wescom offered several recommendations “attuned to a self-reliant defense posture that seeks to improve our external defense operations in the West Philippine Sea such as the support for the sustainment of effective presence in the Kalayaan Island Group, shipbuilding and maintenance, sub-surface detection capability, drone and anti-drone capability, and coastal defense.”