MANILA – Malacañang on Monday announced the four additional “suitable and mutually beneficial” locations for the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
In a news release, the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) said the four sites are the Naval Base Camilo Osias in Sta. Ana, Cagayan; Lal-lo Airport in Lal-lo, Cagayan; Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela; and Balabac Island in Palawan.
They have been inspected and assessed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
According to the Palace, the four locations are seen to boost the disaster response of the country as they will also be used for humanitarian and relief operations during emergencies and natural disasters.
President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. already announced last month that Filipino and American officials have agreed on the four new sites, with the main goal to defend the country’s eastern coast.
Marcos granted US troops access to four more Philippine military camps on top of the five existing locations under the EDCA in February.
The five are Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City.
To overcome opposition from some local government units (LGUs) not keen on hosting US forces and equipment, Marcos talked to local officials and explained the importance of the EDCA sites in their jurisdictions.
Department of National Defense (DND) chief Carlito Galvez Jr. said he is thankful to the Chief Executive for giving him authority to announce the four new EDCA sites.
"I was instructed by the President kanina na (earlier that) we have to announce it, we are very so happy and very thankful to the President," Galvez told reporters on Monday.
Galvez also said their American counterparts have been waiting for the announcement so that their Congress can allocate the necessary budget.
"Actually ‘yan ang hinihintay ng ating (that announcement is being anticipated by our) counterparts so that (they) can immediately make necessary recommendations (to their) Congress, kasi (because) it will be budgeted by their Congress. The earlier it will be announced, the faster it will be," he added.
The DND chief said the new EDCA sites are "very strategic", especially the Naval Base Camilo Osias and the one in Balabac Island.
In the case of Balabac Island, Galvez said the location is near the so-called "SLOC" (sea lanes of communications) which is a major shipping route.
He added that the new EDCA locations are beneficial to the country as this will provide "all-around security."
Earlier, DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said the EDCA sites would not be American military bases but storage and warehouse facilities for military logistics.
This month, Filipino and American troops are scheduled to hold their largest-ever military exercise.
The Pentagon announced that the United States and the Philippines have agreed to review the full range of their maritime cooperation in the 2 + 2 meeting in Washington DC also this month.
The EDCA, signed in 2014, allows US troops access to designated Philippine military facilities, and the right to build facilities and preposition equipment, aircraft and vessels, but rules out permanent basing.
It is a key pillar of the US-Philippines alliance, which supports combined training, exercises and interoperability between Filipino and American forces. (With Priam F. Nepomuceno/PNA)