Philippine senators question Marcos gov’t plan to give US access to more military bases

PHILIPPINE senators on Wednesday questioned a government decision to give the United States access to four more military bases under a 2014 defense pact, saying Amerian troops have not done enough to help Filipinos during disasters.

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that the two security allies signed in 2014 had sought to boost humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, Senator Maria Imelda “Imee” R. Marcos told a Senate hearing.

“If that is the purported reason for the location of these sites, why is it that they have never been active in this area of humanitarian relief?” she asked Defense Secretary Carlito G. Galvez, Jr.

“It’s not that we’re seeking payback,” she said in Filipino. “We’re just wondering. Why are disasters always mentioned but they don’t come?”

Mr. Galvez said the “primary consideration” of the EDCA sites is for bilateral exercises “and also what we call the projected forward base for the logistical hub that we will be having.”

EDCA also seeks to promote interoperability, address short-term capability gaps, promote long term modernization and boost maritime security.

Ms. Marcos also asked why both parties had pushed new EDCA sites in northern Luzon. She also asked whether the new EDCA sites have anything to do with tensions between China and self-ruled Taiwan. “Are we admitting that [the] Taiwan [issue] is the target of this?”

“The EDCA sites that we have including the five  EDCA sites will be used primarily for our bilateral use — in training and also for contingencies,” Mr. Galvez said in reply.

Local officials at the hearing said they had not been consulted about the new military sites.

Cagayan Governor Manuel Noveno Mamba, Sr. said he was never formally informed about having EDCA sites in his province.

The two countries have yet to disclose details on the location of the new sites but last year, a former Philippine military chief said Washington had requested access to bases in northern Luzon including Cagayan, the closest part of the Philippines to Taiwan, and on the island of Palawan, facing the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

Mr. Mamba said the planned EDCA site in his province exposes them to potential geopolitical disputes involving US troops.

“We will have sleepless nights,” he said, noting that his province is near Taiwan, which is being claimed by China. “We are the closest. We will get hit whatever happens,” he said in Filipino.

He also said his province did not receive any help from the US government when it was hit by typhoons in 2016 and in 2018. “I never saw America, I never saw goods from America.”

At the hearing, Armed Forces Deputy Chief of Staff Major General Jeffery Hechanova said there were 21 new projects at five EDCA sites in the country. Of the 21, five projects have been completed, nine are ongoing and seven have not yet started.

“We have four additional proposals, pending the approval of the respective local government units on the locations of these proposals and pending approval from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the President.”

Mr. Hechanova declined to divulge the exact locations of the new sites. — K.A.T. Atienza