Department of National Defense chief Carlito Galvez, Jr. attends on Wednesday (April 19, 2023) the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs inquiry on the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). During the hearing, Galvez explained the reasons for choosing the four additional EDCA sites, three of which are located in Northern Luzon. (Photo by Senate PRIB) 

MANILA – The four additional Enhanced Defense Cooperation (EDCA) agreed locations intend to intensify the role of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in strengthening the country's defense and security as well as humanitarian and relief operations, Department of Defense chief Carlito Galvez Jr. clarified on Wednesday to senators.

Together with Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, Galvez attended the general inquiry on EDCA by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations chaired by Senator Imee Marcos.

Noting that previous EDCA sites were located in the inner part of the country, Galvez said they have been looking for other possible vulnerabilities.

"We can see that our vulnerabilities are located at the north-eastern side in terms of maritime security. While on the disaster side in the areas of Cagayan and also in the Isabela, we see our experiences that these areas have been isolated during the previous typhoons that we have experienced," he explained.

The EDCA four sites, which was recently announced by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., include 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.

During the deliberation of AFP with counterparts in the United States, Galvez said the chosen areas were determined to be the most vulnerable in terms of the country's maritime security, as well as maritime interest in Benham rise and the West Philippine Sea.

"We saw that there is a need really for immediate designation of three sites in the north and also another site in at the south-eastern part which is the Balabac," Galvez said noting that Balabac Island and Camilo Osias Naval Base are the most strategic among the EDCA sites.

"If we have Camilo Osias, we can consolidate our forces for our future operations for disaster relief in Basco, Batanes because we have a lot of experience that Basco, Batanes had been isolated during disasters," he added.

This, after Sen. Imee Marcos questioned the intent of the EDCA and the government's plan to build more EDCA bases, saying the sites chosen were "random and no longer purposeful" with regard to the efforts to modernize the AFP.

Modernization, she said, should be the primary goal in the EDCA's implementation, besides disaster preparedness, maritime security and counterterrorism.

"Are we going to just rely on foreigners to defend us while our armed forces remain neglected, outdated and completely abject in the face of any external threats?" Marcos asked.

Meanwhile, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian also questioned the reason and criteria for choosing the EDCA sites is wondering whether these are really strategic for the Philippines and not for the US.

"That’s why I’m looking for the end-goal. If the end-goal is to help capacitate ourselves or to ward off terrorism, I assume that the [EDCA] sites will be located in areas where we need to strengthen our capacities. That’s why I’m looking for the end-goal,” Gatchalian said.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III, who was also present in the inquiry, is convinced that the additional four sites and the present negotiation of the Philippine and the US governments do not intend to change any word or provision in the EDCA agreement.

He also clarified that the the extent of PH-US military exercises are only addendum to the existing agreement.

“When we are discussing with our counterparts, the end product is an annex to EDCA, so we don’t even attempt to change the terms of EDCA, this is just an annex to be cleared. We are making the commitment that no matter how extensive the discussions are, there will be no attempt, desires, or intention to change any word in EDCA or the agreement,” Pimentel said.

Secretary Manalo reported to the committee that currently, there remains eight of 16 EDCA projects in five originally agreed locations.

"Six of the projects are expected to be completed within 2023 including the runway project that Basa air base, storage facility at Mactan air base, and the [high availability disaster recovery] HADR of the humanitarian disaster relief warehouse in Fort Magsaysay," Manalo explained.

He said the funding for the remaining projects is also expected to be awarded by September 2023.

To date, the US has allocated a total of over USD100 million to EDCA projects including additional USD18 million announced during the third 2+2 ministerial dialogue held in Washington last week covering projects in both existing and new agreed EDCA sites. (PNA)