MANILA -- Foreign analysts believe that the newly-signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the US and the Philippines will benefit the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in protecting areas disputed with China.
According to James Hardy, Asia-Pacific editor for IHS Jane's Defence Weekly, and Steven Rood, the country representative for The Asia Foundation, the deal merely formalizes US military activities and operations that have been taking place under the radar here in recent years.
"The US has been in the Philippines...since 2001, and I think we've also seen a lot of activity in terms of port visits like Subic bay throughout the last few years. So I think what it really does is it kind of formalizes what's been going on quietly in the background anyway," Hardy told ANC.
"The main headline event of course has been the signing of the EDCA and that comes both in pursuit of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, but also the earlier Visiting Forces Agreement which is the legal framework for actually having American servicemen on Philippine soil. The idea there is to become much more systematic about this kind of work that is ongoing," Rood said.
Hardy said he believes the agreement is likely to be beneficial to the Philippines' military forces as they try to enforce the country's claims to disputed areas.
"If you look at the ability of the Philippine Armed Forces to protect outlying islands, particularly in the South China Sea of course, then to be honest it's not very well-equipped. So having US assets in the Philippines, which it may be able to share intelligence with for example on what kind of patrol aircraft or ships are going to be moving around the South China Sea, that's gotta help the Philippines until they start doing this Armed Forces modernization program and really buy the equipment that they need to protect the outside, outlying islands in other areas," he said.
US President Barack Obama has come under fire for not being as unequivocal about the defense of the Philippines in its territorial row with China as he was with Japan.
But Rood said comparisons between the mutual defense treaties between the US and Japan and the US and Philippines will show that both documents are essentially the same.
The real difference lies in the nature of the disputed territories themselves, he said.
"It's really the difference in legal status. Nobody disputes that Japan administers the Senkaku Islands. China doesn't like that they do so, but they don't dispute that they do so. It is clear that they are within Japanese jurisdiction. Whereas for many of the land formations in the South China/West Philippine Sea, it's not clear who administers them. And that's why the defense treaty is not automatically going to be involved," Rood explained.
US TROOP ROTATIONS
As far as the number of US troops that will rotate through the Philippines now that the EDCA is in place, Rood said it could go up to as many as 2,000 at any given time up from the current 600 that are rotating through areas such as Cebu, Zamboanga, Marawi and Maguindanao.
He noted that the enhanced defense cooperation with the Philippines also provides many benefits for the US military.
"The whole notion of having US facilities in the Philippines gives them a chance to preposition supplies... They don't want to have bases in particular but they do want to have access to forward position supplies. Some of them are going to be humanitarian, some are not, some are going to be much more security-related."
"Secondly, the American troops do gain from training here. I was just up in Subic over the weekend and Aetas up there have been training US troops on jungle survival. It is of benefit to them, gives them another range, another place where they can do this kind of work," he said.
Rood, meanwhile, said China is unlikely to be further antagonized by the signing of the EDCA and its claims to disputed areas of the West Philippine Sea are unlikely to change. -- ANC