US to spend millions on construction projects at Philippine bases
The United States agreed to spend $66.5 million for construction at military bases in the Philippines, beginning next year, and is looking to fund more projects under a 2014 cooperation agreement between the allies, Filipino defense officials announced Tuesday.
These projects, which call for training facilities and warehouses to be built on bases, are part of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, Department of National Defense (DND) spokesman Arsenio Andolong said.
The agreement supplements the Visiting Forces Agreement, a 1999 bilateral pact that provides the legal cover for large-scale joint military exercises between the U.S. and the Philippines, Washington’s longtime defense ally in the contested South China Sea region.
“The department is committed to accelerate the implementation of EDCA by concluding infrastructure enhancement and repair projects, developing new infrastructure projects at EDCA locations and exploring new locations that will build a more credible defense posture,” Andolong said in a statement.
Defense official have said there are five “agreed locations” – the Cesar Basa Air Base and Fort Magsaysay in the northern provinces of Pampanga and Nueva Ecija; the Antonio Bautista Air Base and Benito Ebuen Air Base in the central provinces of Palawan and Cebu; and the Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro city in the south.
“Currently, $66.5 million (3.8 billion pesos) is earmarked for the implementation of approved EDCA projects at the agreed locations,” Andolong said. “The projects include construction of training, warehouse and other facilities at Cesar Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Ramon Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, and Lumbia Airport Base Station in Cagayan de Oro.”
The work is to be completed over the next two years, according to officials.
The announcement comes as ties with the U.S. have improved since President Rodrigo Duterte left office in June.
During his six years in power, Duterte, who once threatened to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement, forged closer ties with China, the United States’ rival superpower.
He was succeeded by Ferdinand Marcos Jr. who met with U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of a United Nations General Assembly in New York in September.
Biden and Marcos said the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty binds the nations to help each other in times of outside aggression, and so it was important to maintain their “critical relationship.”
The U.S. repeatedly has said it would quickly come to the Philippines’ aid over an attack in the South China Sea. Manila is locked in a dispute with Beijing over territories claimed by both nations.
Meanwhile on Monday, military chief Lt. Gen. Bartolome Bacarro said the U.S. had proposed adding five facilities to the list.
“It is not definite yet,” Bacarro told reporters.
Those sites, which were announced on Tuesday, include two in Cagayan, and one each in Zambales (specifically in Subic, the site of a former American naval base), Palawan and Isabela.
The proposal is subject to approval by the defense and foreign affairs departments.
“The DND remains consistent in its position that all engagements with the U.S. as well as other foreign partners must be conducted in accordance with the Philippine Constitution and other national laws,” Andolong said.
Japan seeks similar agreement
Japan, which has its own territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, is seeking a similar visiting forces pact to allow its forces to train in the Philippines, a defense official said. Currently, Japanese forces are allowed to join Philippine-U.S. training exercises as “observers” only.
The Philippines and Japan share intersecting interests “in the West Philippine Sea and of course the borders that we share,” acting Defense Secretary Jose Faustino said. The West Philippine Sea is the Philippine name for its claimed territories in the South China Sea.
“So our goal really is to strengthen this cooperation,” he told reporters.
Aie Balagtas See in Manila contributed to this report.