The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it is still too early to see the benefits of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) since the actual implementation of the new Philippines-US accord was just this year.
"EDCA was not implemented after it was signed in April 2014 because of questions about its constitutionality were raised before the Supreme Court," Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Charles Jose told ABS-CBN News in a statement.
Jose said it was only when the high court ruled with finality that EDCA was constitutional, and that it did not require Senate concurrence, that it was implemented.
"This was only in July 2016. So it's still early to tell the actual benefits of EDCA to the country" he said.
But Jose also said that theoretically, aside from enhancing the defense capabilities of the country's military, including maritime defense and maritime domain awareness, the biggest benefit from EDCA is in terms of humanitarian assistance & disaster relief (HADR).
"By allowing the US to pre-position their personnel & materiel in agreed locations in PH, they would be able to respond even more quickly in times of disasters & natural calamities, should they strike the country, thereby saving more lives." Jose said, citing the instance of Typhoon Yolanda when Leyte was isolated, and the first responders were the U.S. military with their aircraft carriers.
The DFA said previous military exercises under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which is the framework of EDCA, have proven to be beneficial to the country in other ways, including counter-terrorism.
DFA records claim that with U.S. assistance extended under the VFA, many Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) members, including Khadafy Janjalani, ASG spokesperson Abu Solaiman, and ASG sub commander Ismin Sahiron, were killed or captured.
The VFA also permitted the AFP to access new defense technologies, systems, best practices, models and information that can be adapted to suit Philippine requirements.
Without such access, the already difficult and expensive task of Philippine defense modernization would be severely hampered, the DFA said.
The DFA also cited total U.S. military and defense assistance to the Philippines including assistance from 1999 to 2009 that amounted to about P20.17 billion, or an average of around P2 billion annually.
The DFA added that between 2001 and 2008, USAID provided around $312 million in grants in support of a lasting peace for the people of Mindanao.
The DFA also said that the joint military exercise agreements have been beneficial for the Philippine economy as construction activities generated jobs, while the procurement of local goods and supplies by the US military and personnel provided economic opportunities for local businesses.
NOT BENEFICIAL: BAYAN
But leftist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) said the EDCA or VFA are not in any way beneficial, and the country can live without these agreements with the Americans.
"Ang tanong kasi dyan, sa mahigit 50 years na tayo nasa umbrella ng U.S., nakakapit sa saya ng mga amerikano, bakit hanggang ngayon atrasado pa rin ang Armed Force natin?" Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes said.
"Ang U.S. wala talagang interes na maging developed ang AFP dahil kapag nadevelop na tayo, hindi na tayo aasa sa kanila, hindi na sila makakapagdikta sa atin," he added.
Reyes said the agreement is not supposed to be a requirement for the U.S. to help the Philippines in times of disaster. "You don't need a military agreement para magkaroon ng tulungan. Maraming bansa ang tumulong na walang hinihiling na military agreement, U.S. lang" he said.
Reyes is also concerned about the immunity and special treatment granted to U.S. soldiers participating in military exercises, the building of American infrastructures in Philippine military camps without even paying rent, and arguments that EDCA and VFA helps the country in counter-terrorism intelligence and military operations.
"If they are so good on counter-terrorism, one word, Mamasapano. Sila ang intelligence, nag-train, nag-pondo, 44 Filipinos died in that operation. Anong sinasabi nilang effect ng counter terrorism? Pinahamak nga nila ang mga Pilipino" Reyes said.
Just after President Rodrigo Duterte was elected in May he was quoted as favoring the continuance of EDCA with the United States citing the limited capabilities of the country's military.
"I have no problem with EDCA-sanctioned use of Philippine military bases by US troops because we don't have good external defense capabilities," Duterte said in a press briefing in May.
But just recently Duterte hummed a different tune. He said he will be reviewing the EDCA, which the president said was only signed by former Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and an "aide."
"Itong EDCA, it is an official document, but it was only signed by an aide at si Gazmin. It does not bear the signature of the President of the Republic of the Philippines, Aquino. Walang pirma si Aquino. Better think twice now because I would be asking you to leave the Philippines altogether," Duterte said.
"Hindi kami magugutom. We will get out and after review of that document and if I find that there is no signature, if you cannot produce a signature bearing the permit to you, mag-conduct conduct kayo rito ng ano, pati 'yang war games," he added.
Aside from this, Duterte announced that the 2016 military exercises between the U.S. and the Philippines this month will be the last.