(File photo)

MANILA – The Department of National Defense (DND) shrugged off claims that the Philippines' Enhanced Defense Cooperation (EDCA) with the United States does not constitute a "gross violation of our national sovereignty".

"The EDCA, which is an offshoot of the MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty) was deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court. The EDCA Agreed Locations are not permanent basing facilities for the US but will be jointly operated by the two sides, and their use by our treaty ally is subject to our permission and mutual agreement," DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said in a statement over the weekend.

He also stressed that the EDCA sites primarily consist of storage facilities, which require minimum use of utilities since they will only be utilized during exercises and emergencies, and improvements on existing facilities owned and operated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

"In addition, the US is funding the construction and development of the EDCA Agreed Locations and, in doing so, is creating jobs and boosting the local economies of the communities where the sites are located," Andolong said.

He also noted that improvements on EDCA sites are part of the efforts to enhance the capability of the Philippines to ensure its security.

"The DND reiterates that access to and use of EDCA Agreed Locations by US personnel is by invitation of the Philippines and is by no means 'unhampered' or 'unimpeded.' The Philippines retains sovereignty and responsibility over EDCA Agreed Locations," the DND spokesperson stressed.

The Philippines earlier named 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 as additional EDCA locations.

The proposal to add additional EDCA locations was announced by the Philippines and US defense departments last February.

These new locations add to the five EDCA locations earlier picked by Manila and Washington D.C. -- Cesar Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija; Lumbia Airfield in Cagayan de Oro City; Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan; and Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.

The DND spokesperson added that these EDCA sites are vital to defending the country's territories, responding to calamities and securing Filipino fishermen making their livelihood in the country's vast waters.

"We call on the public to approach and understand the issue beyond the myopic perception that strengthening the military's capabilities means inviting war or conflict. Time and again, the AFP's assets and facilities have been utilized to respond to various threats to the security and safety of the Filipino people," he said.

Andolong also stressed that allocating resources for the development of the country's defense capabilities and the enhancement of the skills of its troops is a part of the functions of a state such as the Philippines.

He also assured the public that the DND and AFP are exercising judicious use of the funds allocated for the country's defense posture as this will allow the military to perform its mandate.

"Furthermore, Philippines-US activities, including efforts facilitated through EDCA, are intended to enhance the partnership between the Philippines and the US. These are not directed against any particular country but to modernize our alliance with the US and maintain a peaceful, free and prosperous Indo-Pacific," Andolong noted. (PNA)