MANILA -- Some senators and local government executives on Wednesday sought explanation from Defense officials regarding its plan to construct 4 more military bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States.
During the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing led by Sen. Imee Marcos, officials from the Department of National Defense (DND), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) were made to explain and justify the planned construction of 4 more EDCA sites despite earlier projects still uncompleted.
"Overall we have 21 [EDCA sites], and 5 of them have been completed and 9 are ongoing, while 7 have not yet started for various reasons... We also have 4 additional proposals pending the approval of respective LGUs on the locations of these and DFA and OP," said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hechanova, Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans, OJ5 of the AFP.
But Marcos questioned the move, citing the "unsubstantial" completion of the earlier EDCA sites. She the government should prioritize the earlier projects instead of adding more to the pile.
"Only 20 percent of the previous EDCA agreements have actually been built... There is no substantial completion kung 20 percent lang ang tapos. At kahit hindi pa tapos na tapos 'yun, dadagdagan pa natin ng 4 pa? Hindi ba mas maayos kung tapusin muna 'yung dati. Dagdag tayo nang dagfag hindi matapos-tapos 'yung una," Marcos lamented.
Hechanova said the government remains optimistic because the 9 ongoing constructions are already nearing completion.
"So we've established that despite the fact that these EDCA sites and projects are largely unfinished, we will proceed to an additional number of 4 sites, without any timeline in view," Marcos said.
Meanwhile, Marcos also appeared puzzled about the supposed locations of the 4 new EDCA sites.
The senator, citing press releases, said the new bases would be erected in Cagayan, Isabela, and Zambales, all in Northern Luzon.
"I just need to understand why are you choosing these sites in Northern Luzon when in fact when it's West Philippine Sea deterrence that is uppermost in our minds, surely [the new EDCA sites] will be on the western sector, not purely in the northern," Marcos asked.
"Nag-shift na ba tayo, hindi na 'yung territorial integrity kundi escalation ng tension sa Taiwan straits ang ating tinutumbok nito?" Marcos added.
DND officer-in-charge Carlito Galvez denied that the government has already identified the new EDCA sites and refused to answer if the military already shifted to a new defense strategy.
"As we've said the 4 sites are still under negotiation, we might change the location depending on the agreement with the security sector," Galvez said.
Galvez's reluctance to divulge more details prompted Sen. Francis Tolentino to seek better clarification regarding the EDCA projects.
“Perhaps to clarify all of these, there has to be a fusion between the thinking of the foreign affairs and the defense establishment... To abbreviate, you have to join forces and explain what is going on. How will this help the country economically, diplomatically, politically, militarily, not to mention the disaster preparedness advantage?" he said.
Marcos also presented to the hearing Cagayan governor Manuel Mamba, who had earlier registered his opposition to hosting military bases in their province.
According to Marcos, the government is eyeing to construct 2 EDCA sites in Cagayan.
"I was never formally informed about having an EDCA site in Cagayan. I never consulted our people yet because I was not formally informed yet," Mamba said, adding he learned about the supposed plan from "news and social media."
Marcos, mother of Ilocos Norte governor Matthew Manotoc, backed Mamba and said local officials in Northern Luzon were not consulted about EDCA sites.
"I can echo the sentiments of Gov. Mamba that the LGUs were not consulted in any way except for a sudden meeting regarding Balikatan a few weeks ago and that is all... This is the very first time that a Balikatan meeting was conducted in Northern Luzon, it's the first time we were ever called upon to discuss this. It's not regular at all," she said.
Galvez said they had sent "feelers" to Mamba and that a meeting was already "incoming."
"We have incoming meeting with Gov. Mamba but we already sent some feelers for an informal consultation with him.," he said.
For her part, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the government should assess the "social cost" of US military bases on communities.
"This means that we have to depend not only on the help of our former colonizers – the United States – but instead have security arrangements with the wider international community that is more than willing to support our cause,” Hontiveros said.
Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa also asked the US to "set the record straight" regarding its plan to set up 4 more sites to base its troops in the Philippines, particularly in Northern Luzon.
“America should clarify that they are not here to use the Philippines in advancing their own interest, particularly in making the country a launchpad in the event China invaded Taiwan,” Dela Rosa said.
A security expert earlier urged the Philippine government to be "more transparent" about its plan to open more military bases for American troops.
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