'Fort Magsaysay can accommodate US forces'

By Alexis Romero, The Philippine Star

Posted at Apr 03 2014 02:25 AM | Updated as of Apr 03 2014 10:25 AM

CAMP AQUINO, Tarlac City, Philippines – The Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) is ready to make available Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija for the equipment of the United States once the deal on enhanced defense cooperation is signed.

NOLCOM chief Lt. Gen. Gregorio Catapang noted that Fort Magsaysay, the largest camp in the country, has served as training ground for Filipino soldiers and visiting US troops during joint military exercises.

“I think we can make available Fort Magsaysay as an area where they can put their equipment,” he said on the sidelines of NOLCOM’s 27th anniversary last Tuesday.

Catapang’s statement does not represent an official offer from the Philippine government as he was just asked what camp in his area could serve as a site for the defense deal.

He clarified that they have yet to receive marching orders on the base access talks between the Philippines and the US.

He, nevertheless, said Fort Magsaysay could be a suitable site because of its size and its nearness to Dingalan Bay, part of the property of the Army’s 7th division.

“The bay can be used as an area for naval maneuvers,” Catapang said.

The 44,000-hectare Fort Magsaysay is the headquarters of the Army’s Special Operations Command, the 7th Infantry Division and the Army Special Forces.

Negotiations on the enhanced defense cooperation agreement are now in its final stages, with the Philippine and US panels completing the 7th round of talks last week.

The agreement would provide the US greater access to Philippine military installations subject to existing laws and the Constitution.

Officials are confident that the deal would provide the country “minimum credible defense” amid China’s aggressive acts in the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Negotiators declined to provide a timetable for the completion of talks but there have been speculations that a deal would be forged in time for US President Barack Obama’s visit to Manila this month.