MANILA – The Philippines and the United States signed Monday a new defense agreement that will allow greater US military presence in the Philippines.
The defense pact was signed by US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg and Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin hours before US President Barack Obama's arrival in Manila.
The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) is designed to promote interoperability, capacity building towards modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), strengthening of the AFP external defense, maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
In his speech at the AFP headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Goldberg reiterated that the new defense deal ''will not reopen US bases [in the Philippines]. It is an agreement to enhance our defense relationship."
Goldberg added the new defense deal marks a new stage in PH-US relations, and celebrates the American administration's rebalance to Asia.
"The United States and Philippines alliance is the oldest of the five treaty alliances in Asia, and the US-PH Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) signed in 1951 continues to serve as well, having contributed to the security and stability of region for the last six decades,'' Goldberg said.
Goldberg said the EDCA aims to update the alliance in order to meet the increasingly complex challenges of the 21st century ''whether it is terrorism, transnational crimes or disasters."
''The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement serves as recognition by both sides that there is even more we can do together to support the alliance and to promote peace and security in the region,'' he said.
Goldberg said the EDCA is based on the key principles and shared values of commitment to democratic government and international; mutuality of benefits for both nations; respect for Philippine sovereignty over all locations covered under the agreement; and the understanding that the US does not intend to establish a permanent military presence in the Philippines.
Goldberg noted the EDCA will open training opportunities for both the US and Philippine forces, and help the Philippine military in its modernization efforts. In addition, it will help the Philippine military develop and maintain maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities.
Meanwhile, Gazmin said the EDCA is anchored on the principles encapsulated in the MDT and guided by the Visiting Forces Agreement.
Government officials earlier said there is no need to send the EDC to the Senate for approval since it is just a part of the treaty.
''At the time when external armed attack was the key concern, we forged the MDT and put in place a mutual defense board. When non-traditional security challenges came at the forefront, we entered into the VFA [Visiting Forces Agreement], which enabled our forces to train together and establish the security engagement board,'' Gazmin said.
''Today, as defense and security challenges have become more complex, both the Philippines and US have realized the utility of having an agreement that would further enhance our ability to face those complicated challenges."
The signing of the EDCA comes at a time when the Philippines is trying to fend off increased aggression from China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The US, meanwhile, seeks to shift its focus towards Asia in the face of a rising China, the world's second largest economy.