MANILA - US troops will have access to at least 8 Philippine military bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gregorio Catapang and his American counterpart, Admiral Samuel Locklear, chief of the US Pacific Command, drew up the list of 8 bases during a meeting of the Mutual Defense Board (MDB) and Security Engagement Board (SEB) last October.
Catapang divulged the list to ABS-CBN News this week.
The military bases include:
Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija;
Crow Valley in Tarlac;
Basa Air Base in Pampanga;
Naval Station San Miguel in Zambales;
Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan;
Naval Station Carlito Cunanan in Palawan;
Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu;
Naval Base Rafael Ramos in Cebu.
The list, Catapang said, will be formalized once constitutional questions over the EDCA are resolved.
"If we formalize (now) and they start putting up structures and it’s not constitutional, they will have to destroy those structures. Equipment will have to be brought back to their country," he said.
The EDCA was signed a year ago by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, just hours before President Barack Obama arrived for a two-day state visit in Manila.
It allows US troops to build facilities, store equipment and conduct joint training exercises with Philippine soldiers in agreed locations identified by the MDB-SEB.
Catapang said there is no limit to the number of Philippine bases the US may be given access to.
Former Permanent Representative to the United Nations Lauro Baja Jr. said the EDCA aims to protect US interests in the region.
“Like it or not, China wants hegemony over the region which I think the US will not allow. That’s why they entered into the agreement," he said.
'TAKE HOME INDUSTRY'
But militant groups have long protested giving the US access to Philippine bases, saying it’s an affront to the country’s sovereignty.
They’re also concerned about toxic waste that may lead to health and environmental problems.
Prostitution, they said, could flourish even without a red light district.
Women’s group Gabriela alleged that this is the case in Zamboanga City, home to the US Joint Special Operations Task Force for over a decade.
“They call it ‘take home’. May mga pinapapasok sila sa loob. Rather than military personnel going out of the bases, they ask the women to come inside,” said Rep. Emmi de Jesus.
She also raised concerns about the possibility of a new generation of Amerasians.
“Pwedeng mabuntis yung mga kababaihan tapos iiwan. May relationship with our women but the soldiers have no commitment. The children grow up na may stigma,” de Jesus said.
LIFE AND DEATH
Two of the eight military bases -- Naval Station San Miguel and Naval Station Carlito Cunanan -- face the West Philippine Sea, where tensions continue to escalate due to China’s reclamation and construction activities.
But while EDCA’s proponents had previously said the pact would serve as a deterrent to China’s aggression, Catapang said it will not solve the country’s problems in disputed areas. Nor can the Philippines expect the United States to defend its long-time ally in the event armed conflict erupts in the West Philippine Sea.
“EDCA will not solve our problem. We understand the treaty, it does not include the West Philippine Sea. So we want to develop our own capabilities,” Catapang told ABS-CBN News. “It’s a contested area. Until now, it’s in the International Tribunal so we have to be realistic.”
But EDCA, Catapang said, could spell the difference between life and death during times of calamity. “EDCA was premised so we are able to address climate change. We had a very unfortunate incident in (Super Typhoon) Yolanda, 6,000 Filipinos died because we were not prepared. If the US puts up the facilities, it can be of use to us. If they preposition their assets here and there’s a typhoon that comes in, the equipment is already here."