DND chief Carlito Galvez Jr. (File photo) 

MANILA – The Department of National Defense (DND) on Friday said it strongly welcomes the expression of support coming from mayors of Cagayan regarding the implementation of additional and new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites in their province.

Twenty-one Cagayan mayors have so far expressed support for the EDCA with the United States.

"As of now, 21 mayors have expressed their support and we expect this number to increase, with one municipality even intimating the possibility of donating a tract of land for the use of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)," DND chief Carlito Galvez Jr. said in a statement.

He added this overwhelming support coming from local chief executives in Cagayan supporting EDCA highlights the Filipinos' appreciation of the merits of EDCA that is aimed at boosting Philippine national security and providing opportunities in developing local communities.

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 sites in addition to the five locations earlier picked by Manila and Washington.

These are Cesar Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija; Lumbia Airport in Cagayan De Oro; Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, Palawan; and Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.

"As part of our efforts to prepare to respond to contingencies, the four additional EDCA sites are expected to serve as points for the evacuation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the event of a flare-up in the region's flashpoints. Our Defense Attachés (DAFAs) have been working and coordinating with their host countries on possible repatriation operations, which can be undertaken with our US allies, should the need arise," Galvez said.

The DND chief added that other advantages of developing these sites cannot be understated, especially on the continued modernization of the AFP.

Galvez said the new locations, especially Balabac in Palawan and Camilo Osias Naval Base in Cagayan, will strengthen the country's maritime domain awareness and security.

These facilities will serve as stations and shelters for radar local monitoring systems and new assets such as the Navy's offshore patrol vessels and corvettes, which are now under construction, as well as the future multirole fighters for the Air Force.

"More importantly, the deployment and modernization of the AFP Forces through EDCA, which is an integral part of our Mutual Defense Treaty, shall boost our territorial defense capabilities and will enable our fisherfolk to freely pursue their livelihood in our waters," Galvez stressed.

The DND chief also reported that the US pledge of USD100 million which is equivalent to PHP5.5 billion in modernization assistance will be utilized for the acquisition of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) configured medium-lift helicopters for the disaster response and non-combat operations of the AFP.

"The US has also increased the funding for the development of the EDCA sites from USD82 million to USD100 million, which is equivalent to another PHP5.5 billion. This brings the total of the US’s pledge of support for the HADR helicopters and EDCA projects to USD11 billion," he added.

Galvez also said the various projects in these EDCA sites, most of which are for warehousing and storage for HADR-related materiel, are scheduled for completion by the end of 2023.

"In our pursuit of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific, enabling economic development for all Filipinos is our paramount consideration. In fact, during the 2+2 Ministerial Meeting in Washington, the US side expressed that they will pursue more economic investments in the Philippines with the support also of the USAID socio-economic programs in the communities where EDCA sites are located. This is the DND and DFA’s humble effort in ensuring that the President’s economic agenda will be successful for the betterment of the Filipino people," he added.

And with all these developments, Galvez said the DND looks forward to exploring and undertaking more collaboration with its stakeholders aimed at improving the country's collective aspirations.

"In line with the President's guidance that we will not cede a single inch of Philippine territory to anyone, we shall continue to build on the momentum for the AFP, as we shift our focus to territorial defense and it remains on track to become a strategic player in maintaining peace and prosperity in the region," he said. (PNA)