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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Senate grills defense brass on plans for Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement expansion, sites

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DEFENSE Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. led a team that updated senators on Wednesday on the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, but was confronted with questions from the chair of the Foreign Relations committee about the selection of new EDCA sites.

Galvez briefed members of the Committee on Foreign Relations on the status/completion rate of the five EDCA sites; proposed location of the new EDCA sites; purpose of each site (both old and new); benefits and risks of the sites; and other matters related to EDCA.

The committee chairperson, Sen. Imee Marcos, asked for details the latest plan to construct four more US military bases in the Philippines as part of EDCA’s implementation.  She echoed concerns from local government officials whose jurisdictions were reportedly designated as new EDCA sites.

At one point, she also questioned the inclusion of one unnamed northern province among the sites, wondering aloud if this was meant to provide the US forces a footstool in case of conflict over Taiwan—something that deviates from the understanding that the Philippines is expanding ties with treaty ally the US mainly because of a need to boost security in the West Philippine Sea.

Marcos also told the Executive to prioritize the construction of unfinished EDCA bases, noting that only five of the 21 sites previously agreed upon were so far completed.

For her part, Sen. Risa Hontiveros called for a broader security coalition to ensure peace and security in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), saying the EDCA is not the only solution to attain this goal.

In her opening statement during the Committee on Foreign Relations’ public hearing, Hontiveros pointed out that it is in the interest of many countries to maintain order in the entire South China Sea since around 80 percent of the global trade passes through the region.

The deputy minority leader said the government should focus on forging multilateral partnerships that could provide joint patrols and training of Philippine troops. “This means that we have to depend not only on the help of our former colonizers—the United States—but instead have security arrangements with the wider international community that is more than willing to support our cause,” Hontiveros said.

Image credits: Office of Senator Imee Marcos/Senate PRIB

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