MANILA — The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States will help build up the capability of the military and support efforts in dealing with aggressive expansionist acts in the region, Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino said Wednesday.
During the briefing called by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Batino added that this new level of cooperation with the US will also enable the government to respond more rapidly in times of natural disasters, which in the past years have posed a serious threat to human safety and security.
“The Philippines faces serious challenges: to our sovereignty and sovereign rights, developments in the region point to increasingly aggressive acts; to human safety and security, the frequency and severity of natural disasters point to the need to anticipate, address or mitigate their real impact on people and communities,” Batino told lawmakers at the House of Representatives.
“In these very fluid times, we are forced to take a long and hard look at what we can do as one government to respond to the challenges before us,” added Batino, who chaired the Philippine panel that negotiated the EDCA with the US.
He told lawmakers that EDCA will contribute to the capability buildup of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the areas of maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) while the military and the Department of National Defense are in the process of modernizing and beefing up the country’s defense capabilities and equipment.
“With prepositioned equipment and materiel, our soldiers will be able to train and develop their capabilities even before the Philippine government acquires such equipment, boosting the speed of our capacity-building efforts for men and women in uniform,” Batino said.
He said buildings and other permanent structures to be constructed for the use of US troops visiting on rotational basis will be automatically owned by the government, and as such, “will greatly hasten the development of Philippine military facilities.”
On prepositioned HADR equipment of the US, Batino pointed out that this will allow the government to respond more rapidly in times of natural disasters and other crises.
He, however, assured that prior consent of the Philippine government is necessary before any US activity can take place in agreed locations, which will be determined through the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board.
“The EDCA does not authorize the establishment of US bases. It allows the US military access to agreed locations,” he assured the committee.
“Given the rapidly evolving geopolitical and climatic realities in the Philippines and beyond, and the conduct of joint training exercises, EDCA is a natural progression of the alliance between the Philippines and the US,” Batino explained.
Lastly, Batino said that EDCA is an implementation of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, while the status of American forces is governed by the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement, a treaty concurred in by the Senate and upheld by the Supreme Court.