New deal gives US troops 'unimpeded access'
DFA: New PH-US military pact boosts defense
MANILA (UPDATED) - American forces are allowed "unimpeded access" to Philippine military bases agreed upon by both the US and the Philippines under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), according to the agreement made public by the government on Tuesday.
The 10-year deal won't see the return of US military bases such as Clark Field and Subic Bay but allows the US and its contractors access to "locations" approved by the two countries "for all matters pertaining to prepositioning and storage of defense equipment, supplies, materiel, including delivery, management, inspection, use, maintenance, and removal of such equipment, supplies and materiel."
The US will have "operational control" of specific locations in Philippine bases, according to the agreement.
According to the EDCA, all equipment and supplies prepositioned by Americans shall be for the exclusive use, ownership, and control of US forces.
The new security accord does not specify the number of US troops and equipment to be deployed in the country, with those details to be discussed separately by the two governments.
"They can do construction and upgrade of infrastructure, they can store or preposition defense equipment, supplies and material, as well as hard equipment and supplies," said Lourdes Yparaguirre, Philippine ambassador to Austria and a member of the negotiating panel that worked on the deal for 8 months.
Under EDCA, the US will have to get prior consent of the Philippines through the Mutual Defense Board (MDB) and Security Engagement Board (SEB) that were established under the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) of 1951 and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) before starting any work in Philippine bases.
"The AFP base commander will have access to the entire area of the facilities shared with the US military. The Philippines will also own any building and similar infrastructure that will be built by the US military," the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in its briefing paper on the agreement.
The materials that can be stored in US-controlled locations include defense equipment and supplies, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief goods.
"United States forces shall notify the AFP in advance the quantities and delivery schedules of defense equipment, supplies and materiel that United States forces intend to preposition in agreed locations as well as who will make such activities," the agreement said.
It explicitly bans nuclear weapons.
"EDCA clearly provides that the materials the US military may bring into the country 'shall not include nuclear weapons,' in compliance with the Philippine Constitution. EDCA also reaffirms the two countries’ respective obligations under the Convention on Chemical Weapons and Convention on Biological Weapons," the DFA said.
The agreement also allows US forces to hold training, transit, support and related activities, refueling of aircraft, bunkering of vessels, temporary maintenance of vehicles, vessels and aircraft, temporary accommodation of personnel, communications, and other related activities in the selected locations in Philippine bases.
"Given the mutuality of benefits, the Parties agree that the Philippines shall make agreed locations available to United States force without rental or similar costs. United States forces shall cover their necessary operational expenses with respect to their activities at the agreed locations," it said.
Under the agreement, the Philippine government retains ownership and title to the agreed locations. It also requires the US to return the facilities -- non-movable structures included -- to the Philippines.
"United States forces and United States contractors shall retain title to all equipment, materiel, supplies, relocatable structures, and other movable property that have been imported into or acquired within the territory of the Philippines by or on behalf of the United States forces," it said.
The US and the Philippines are required to "cooperate" in ensuring protection, safety and security of US forces and their contractors, but the Armed Forces of the Philippines retains the "primary responsibility for security" in the agreed locations.
"United States forces are authorized to exercise all rights and authorities within agreed locations that are necessary for their operational control or defense, including taking appropriate measures to protect United States forces and United States contractors. The United States should coordinate such measures with appropriate authorities of the Philippines," the agreement said.
The agreement also allows US forces to operate their own telecommunication systems in the agreed locations. "This shall include the right to utilize such means and services as required to ensure the full availability to operate telecommunication systems and the right to use all necessary radio spectrum allocated for this purpose."
It also bars the US from releasing any hazardous materials or hazardous waste in the agreed locations. If a spill occurs, the US is expected to contain, clean up, and address environmental contamination resulting from the incident.
According to the DFA, the EDCA pushes forward the the implementation of the Philippine-US MDT of 1951.
It said the EDCA will promote inter-operability between the two military allies, build the capacity towards modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, strengthening the AFP for external defense, boost maritime security and maritime domain awareness, as well as improve humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
The DFA said the agreement strictly complies with the Philippine Constitution, laws, and jurisprudence as well as respects Philippine sovereignty.
"The entry of US military troops for military exercises and other approved activities is already allowed under the Philippine-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which is a treaty concurred in by the Senate and upheld by the Supreme Court," it said.
It reiterated that the EDCA requires Philippine consent for all US military activities, exerts full Philippine control over facilities to be used, and sets non-exclusivity of use of the designated areas for US armed forces.
US President Barack Obama said the deal would see more US troops rotate through the Philippines for joint military training exercises, but emphasized there would be no return of permanent American bases.
"Greater cooperation between American and Filipino forces would enhance our ability to train, exercise, and operate with each other and respond even faster to a range of challenges," Obama said in a written response to questions by ABS-CBN News ahead of his visit to the Philippines earlier this week.
The US and the Philippines are already long-time allies bound by the MDT, and engage in regular war games that see thousands of US troops and state-of-the-art American military hardware brought to the Philippines.
The two countries signed the agreement at a time of the Philippines' deep tensions with China over competing claims to parts of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
'EDCA NOT OUT TO CONTAIN CHINA'
Yparaguirre, however, said the EDCA is not designed against China.
"China was never discussed in the negotiations," she told reporters on the sidelines of the signing ceremony on Monday. "We don't aim to contain or confront anyone. I hope that our neighbors in the region would also view this agreement as a positive contribution to peace, stability, security and prosperity in the region."
China claims about 90 percent of the West Philippine Sea, an international shipping route believed to be rich in energy resources. China's claim overlaps with that of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.
Manila has sought international arbitration over China's "9-dash-line" claims to the waters.
In his comments to ABS-CBN News, Obama emphasized that the United States remained deeply committed to supporting the Philippines and referred to the MDT.
"We've pledged ourselves to our common defense for more than six decades. Our treaty obligations are iron-clad," Obama said.
"The United States stands by its allies, in good times and in bad. In fact, one of the main purposes of my visit will be to reaffirm our treaty commitments to the Philippines and to make it clear that just as we've relied on each other in the past, we can count on each other today."
However, the MDT does not specifically state that the United States must come to the Philippines' defense over remote islets and reefs in the South China Sea.
Obama made no mention of the hotspots when referring to the mutual defense pact, but did again call on China to not use intimidatory tactics to assert its claims.
"I've been clear and consistent in stressing that the United States and China need to support efforts among claimants to peacefully manage and resolve maritime and territorial issue through dialogue, not intimidation, including in the South China Sea," the US leader said. - with reports from Reuters, Agence France-Presse