Saturday, January 16, 2016

EDCA to enhance Phl defense, security capabilities – Noy

From the Philippine Star (Jan 16): EDCA to enhance Phl defense, security capabilities – Noy

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement  (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States could enhance the interoperability between the two countries in terms of defense and other activities, President Aquino said yesterday.

“Anybody who is reasonable will see that this agreement is an enhancement of both our countries’ abilities, rather than a threat to anyone else,” he said.

The Supreme Court upheld the accord early this week, saying it was constitutional and need not be ratified by the Senate, being an executive agreement.

Speaking at the East-West Center Association International Conference at the Manila Hotel, Aquino cited EDCA as an example of complementary relationship to address needs and improve capacities.

“As we are all aware, the Philippines has a long standing Mutual Defense Treaty with the US. We have the Visiting Forces Agreement as an adjunct of that. Under the Mutual Defense Treaty, we are obliged to come to the defense of one another and assist each other in times of need,” the President said.

“My question is – how do we do that if we are not familiar with each other’s resources, equipment, doctrines and limitations?

“To my mind, EDCA has a very practical purpose for developing our own armed forces: all the modern hardware carries a significant price tag, yet with EDCA, we have a chance to try the cutting-edge equipment and see just how suitable they are to our needs, without having to buy them first,” Aquino said.

“If the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) would get to train with the US, a far more advanced force, they could learn from them the strengths and shortcomings in using such equipment and they could even redefine and understand such under their own parameters.”

He said the US, on the other hand, gets to learn how to make do with fewer resources, which in a conflict situation is a high probability.

‘Freeport not military base’

On the other hand, the head of the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) clarified that the freeport cannot be classified as a military base despite its hosting units of the Philippine Air Force, which occupies 300 hectares of land in the area.

The AFP has offered the US military use of eight Philippine bases, including Clark and Subic, a former US Navy base, under the EDCA.

In a forum at Clark, BCDA president and chief executive officer Arnel Paciano Casanova said under the law, Clark can no longer be classified as a military reservation but a freeport.

“The PAF area in Clark is part of the freeport. The stay of the PAF at Clark is temporary and is renewable every five years,” he said.

Casanova said he favors the use of Clark by the US military under EDCA, citing the “need for a balance of power for national security.”

He admitted, however, that the BCDA has yet to be consulted by the Department of National Defense or the AFP on the possible US military use of Clark or whether US military activities would be limited to the 300-hectare area occupied by the PAF.

Casanova said he sees nothing wrong with the US military putting up structures, such as warehouses at Clark.

He also assured Central Luzon folk that the operation of the US military would not disrupt civilian passenger activities at the Clark International Airport, stressing that civilian aircraft would be given priority in the use of either of the two 3.2-kilometer runways, except during times of emergency.

After the SC ruling on EDCA, Armed Forces spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla said the government offered eight bases in the Philippines for US military use.Padilla said, however, the offer still has to be finalized.

Meanwhile, Kalayaan town, a fifth-class municipality on Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys archipelago, stands to benefit from the SC ruling enforcing the EDCA.

Kalayaan town Mayor Eugenio Bito-ono Jr. said while he is not privy to the details of EDCA, he believes it would boost security on the island.

“I believe it will help, specially in surveillance capabilities and training,” Bito-onon said, referring to China’s  aggression in the South China Sea.

Bito-onon said EDCA would bolster interoperability capabilities between Filipino and US troops and in the process make China think twice before making a military move against the country.

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