Friday, February 17, 2023

Marcos Jr. To Make First PMA Visit As Commander-In-Chief At Alumni Homecoming

Posted to Vigour Times (Feb 18, 2023):Marcos Jr. To Make First PMA Visit As Commander-In-Chief At Alumni Homecoming (By Craig Peters)

BAGUIO CITY – Heavy traffic jams clogged parts of the city on Friday as alumni of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and their families drove up for this year’s homecoming ceremonies, which President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will grace for the first time as the commander-in-chief.

It is also the first huge in-person gathering of all PMA graduates since the premiere military school enforced a two-year lockdown, beginning in 2020, to spare cadets from COVID-19 infections.

In 2021, many cavaliers (a term for alumni members who left active service and are now civilians) attended the homecoming via Zoom while a limited number of PMA graduates attended last year’s celebrations and were required to present negative results from COVID-19 tests and their vaccination records.

PMA lifted its lockdown in March last year and has been entertaining tourists for the past few months.

The homecoming “is considered as one of the momentous events for the cavaliers,” and all alumni members were encouraged to join the celebrations at Borromeo Field “as the COVID-19 threat dissipates,” Capt. Maria Charito Dulay, PMA public information officer and a member of the Corps of Professors, told the Inquirer.

TESTS Alumni of the Philippine Military Academy lined up for COVID-19 tests at the alumni general meeting of the Philippine Military Academy on Friday (Feb. 17). Spotted were retired AFP chief Bartolome Bacarro, PNP chief Rodolfo Azurin and bemedalled marine Ariel Querubin who will also participate in this year’s alumni homecoming on Saturday (Feb. 18) which would be graced by President Marcos Jr. PHOTO BY VINCENT CABREZA

Honorary member

Marcos is an honorary member of the PMA Alumni Association (PMAAA).

At the PMAAA Annual General Membership Meeting on Friday, active and retired military and police officers, including former generals, underwent rapid antigen tests at the Baguio Convention Center as a precaution for the assembly and Saturday’s celebrations.

Spotted at the test lines were retired Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Roy Cimatu, who was also an environment secretary; bemedalled former AFP chief Bartolome Bacarro; decorated Marine Captain Ariel Querubin; former Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino Sr.; and Philippine National Police chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin.

War era

The alumni classes include those who fought in World War II, when PMA cadets were forced to end their training and were commissioned to battle the invasion of the Japanese Imperial Army.

After the war, PMA reopened in 1947 at the former Constabulary Hill (now Camp Henry T. Allen beside the City Hall). PMA subsequently relocated to its current home at Fort del Pilar in Loakan.

In the past, the oldest alumni members were wheeled by family members to Borromeo Field so they could reunite with comrades. Retired AFP chief Rodolfo Biazon Sr. of the PMA Class of 1961 has been a prominent fixture in many homecoming events.

Dulay said this year’s host is Maalab Class of 1993, while the Diamond Jubilarians would be members of Class 1963, the Golden Jubilarians are members of Class 1973, and the Silver Jubilarians are graduates of Class 1998.

At the event, PMAAA will be issuing a Lifetime Achievement Award, and numerous Cavalier awards, including the “Cavaliers Pandemic Heroes Award.”

China-Philippine relations on a hot laser’s edge

Posted to the Asia Times (Feb 17, 2023): China-Philippine relations on a hot laser’s edge (By RICHARD JAVAD HEYDARIAN)

Tensions flare on China’s alleged use of laser weapon on Filipino naval crew, tarnishing what had been billed as a ‘new golden era’ in bilateral ties

A Chinese Coast Guard ship aimed a laser at a Philippine Coast Guard vessel in the South China Sea, February 6, 2023. Photo: Philippine Coast Guard / Handout

MANILA – Barely a month after Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s visit to Beijing, his first official overseas trip as national leader, bilateral relations have taken a sudden and decided turn for the worse.

Days after the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported a Chinese vessel used a laser weapon to blind its crew near the contested Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea, Marcos Jr summoned China’s top envoy to express Manila’s “serious concern” over the unprecedented incident.

Beijing’s efforts to downplay the incident, first by insisting Chinese coast guard (CCG) personnel behaved in a “professional and restrained” manner and then by accusing the Philippines of an “intrusion” into Chinese waters, has reportedly infuriated Philippine authorities.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has effectively accused Beijing of lying by pointing out the “lack of congruence” between China’s official statements and the actual facts at sea.

Former National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos, who is currently a top policy adviser to the Philippine legislature, has upped the ante by calling on the Marcos Jr administration to downgrade bilateral relations with China altogether over the incident.

Meanwhile, some Filipino experts have suggested the government should consider invoking its Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with Washington in response to what the PCG has described as “acts of aggression.”

A China Coast Guard vessel directed a laser light at a Philippine Coast Guard vessel in Ayungin Shoal in the South China Sea on February 6, 2023, according to the Philippine Coast Guard. Picture: Philippine Coast Guard

Eager to de-escalate tensions, Chinese Ambassador to Manila Huang Xilian met with Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Andres Centino.

Although both sides have underscored their shared commitment to “promote peace and stability in the region”, Philippine-China relations are likely headed for even rougher waters.

China is apparently peeved by the Marcos Jr administration’s decision to not only expand America’s access to strategic bases across the Philippines but also to pursue a Visiting Forces Agreement-style defense deal with Japan.

Later this year, the two allies will conduct their largest-ever joint military exercises in the Marcoses’ home province of Ilocos Norte.

For its part, Manila will likely further pivot towards traditional allies if China continues to expand its footprint across the South China Sea and claim territories in the Philippines’ EEZ.

In recent months, China has carefully pursued warm ties with Marcos Jr, who broadly backed his predecessor’s Beijing-friendly foreign policy during the presidential election campaign last year.

In fact, the new Filipino president chose China as his first major overseas destination ahead of traditional allies the US and Japan. In many ways, both sides underscored their commitment to ushering in a “new golden era” of bilateral relations.

Intent on keeping bilateral relations on an even keel, both sides carefully navigated Manila’s strategic ties with Washington. When United States Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippine island of Palawan, which lies close to the disputed Spratly group of islands, both Marcos Jr and Chinese officials downplayed the significance of the high-profile visit.

Ahead of Harris’ visit, the Filipino president confidently dismissed any potential effect on his relations with Beijing, since “[Harris] is in the Philippines and she is visiting another part of the Philippines. And of course, it is the closest area to the South China Sea, but it’s very clearly on Philippine territory, so I don’t think there should be… I don’t think it will cause any problems.”

US Vice President Kamala Harris shakes hands with Philippines President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines, November 21, 2022. Photo: Twitter / NDTV

During his meeting with Harris a few days later, Marcos Jr quipped, “I’m sure you’re just going to the resorts and the beaches” in the tourist hotspots of Palawan.

For its part, Beijing also adopted a measured position. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning clarified “[w]e are not against the US’s interaction with regional countries” as long as it’s “good for regional peace and stability and not damaging to other countries’ interest.”

Two months later, Marcos Jr visited Beijing, culminating in almost a dozen new cooperation agreements. The high-stakes trip, however, failed to produce any major breakthrough on outstanding issues related to their South China Sea disputes. The two countries could not agree on any concrete deals to de-escalate maritime tensions or/and jointly explore energy resources in disputed areas.

The Filipino president’s exasperation was fully on display days later when, during his address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, he admitted that maritime disputes with China “keeps you up at night, keeps you up in the day, keeps you up most of the time … It’s very dynamic, it’s constantly in flux so you have to pay attention to it.”

Earlier this month, the Filipino president took a fateful decision by greenlighting the “full implementation” of as well as granting expanded access to US troops under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in a bid to constrain China’s expanding footprint in adjacent waters.

The Philippines also hopes that the EDCA will serve as a springboard for the transfer of more advanced military hardware for the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

China was clearly unimpressed by the expanded EDCA deal, which grants the US Pentagon access to a whole host of strategically-located bases near the South China Sea and Taiwan’s southern shores.

This is expected to go hand in hand with even larger and more numerous joint-military exercises between the two allies this year, with a growing focus on maritime security and joint responses to any contingencies in adjacent waters.

“China always holds that defense and security cooperation between countries should be conducive to regional peace and stability, not targeted against any third party, even less to harm the interests of a third party,” the Chinese embassy in Manila said in a strongly-worded statement.

“The United States, out of its self interests and zero-sum game mentality, continues to step up military posture in this region. Its actions escalate regional tension and undermine regional peace and stability,” the embassy added, warning the Philippines to “sta[y] vigilant and resist being taken advantage of and dragged into troubled waters.”

US and Philippine troops arm and arm in a joint military exercise. Photo: AFP

China was likely even more piqued by Marcos Jr’s decision to pursue major defense deals with Japan as part of a broader tripartite US-Philippine-Japan military pact.

The recent “laser incident” at the Second Thomas Shoal, which hosts a contingent of Filipino marines, has exposed the depth of what is now a deepening crisis in bilateral relations. Some in the Philippines believe that China’s latest actions in the South China Sea are meant as a warning against further expansion in bilateral military relations between Manila and Washington.

Traditional allies have backed the Philippines amid the ongoing crisis in the Second Thomas Shoal.

“The United States stands with our Philippine allies in the face of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Coast Guard’s reported use of laser devices against the crew of a Philippine Coast Guard ship on February 6 in the South China Sea,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement earlier this week.

For his part, Japanese Ambassador Koshikawa Kazuhiko expressed, over Twitter, his “serious concerns about dangerous [Chinese] behavior against [Philippine vessels,” and called Beijing to “respect maritime order based on international law, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas or UNCLOS, and recall that 2016 Arbitral Award is final and legally binding. We firmly oppose any action that increase tensions.”

Buoyed by the firm diplomatic backing of and new defense deals with the US and Japan, top Philippine officials have adopted tougher rhetoric than usual against China’s latest actions.

“We want to engage China as friends but as friends, we have to engage based on truth and goodwill. We have to have congruence with what is being said and what is being done in the waters and we want to actually build on the relationship, but this incident should not continue if we are to build on that,” said DFA spokesperson Ma Teresita Daza.

The recently-resigned National Security Adviser Carlos, who currently advises the Philippine legislature, has openly advocated for potentially recalling the Philippines’ ambassador to Beijing and downgrading bilateral relations to protest the laser incident.

Since last year, the Philippines has filed as many 203 notes verbales in response to China’s perceived as aggressive behavior in Philippine waters. The top policy adviser has underscored the need for “telegraph[ing] to them our deep concern about what they are doing and for them to stop it.”

China's ‘Cabbage Tactics' pestering Philippines to cede territorial waters

Posted to India Today (Feb 17, 2023): China's ‘Cabbage Tactics' pestering Philippines to cede territorial waters (By Dipti Yadav)

Much has already been written about disputes engulfing the South China Sea (SCS) region. What keeps it in vogue, nonetheless, is the continual travesty of regional Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) by China, insofar as regarding its persistent incursions into a 'completely harmless meandering'.

China's ‘Cabbage Tactics' pestering Philippines to cede territorial waters© Provided by India Today

The recent case of a 'military-grade' laser used by China to temporarily blind the crew members of a Philippines Coast Guard (PCG) vessel on a resupply mission to the Ayungin Shoal, one of Manila's claimed islands, is not new in the laborious history of Chinese 'uncanny' fleets doing a roundabout in the SCS to badger foreign vessels and labelling them as a 'threat' so as to indirectly grant itself access for counteracting on its own whim.

The response by the Chinese Foreign Ministry to the same included, not surprisingly, that it was just a procedure to ensure 'navigational safety' as the vessel had 'intruded' the waters. Hence, the CCG crew was forced to use a laser to measure the distance and speed of the Philippines vessel, and not to intentionally blur the Filipino crew's sight as alleged.

CCP's gambit in the SCS finds mention numerous times within the coteries of highbrow diplomats. One such bizarre tactic termed 'cabbage tactics'--China's long-tested ploy of deploying a diverse assemblage of vessels to wrap, surround, and squeeze an adversary's vessel until the area becomes surrounded by many boats.

Where merely a single warship was leveraged in olden times to intimidate the adversary, China rather opts for a swarm of vessels sectioned in three peels, very much identical to a cabbage - hence the jargon.

The first layer comprises innocuous PAFMM (People's Armed Forces Maritime Militia) fishing vessels which come 'uniquely' equipped with automatic weapons and reinforced hulls. These vessels enter the rival claimants' EEZ or territorial waters in a bid to elicit a reaction and scrutinize the adversary's potential before making another encroachment drive.

If the response is that of retaliation, vessels affiliated with the China Coast Guard (CCG) form the mid peel of the cabbage, ever-ready to counter foreign vessels operating near Chinese-claimed features during a standoff between the two.

Comparatively less militaristic in nature, both the China Coast Guard and PAFMM fleets form the 'grey zone' for harassing other vessels and getting away with it. In case the conditions get worse, the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) fleet waits along the shoreline of China's landmass, hence forming the outermost layer.

To sum it all up, the entire tactic boils down to three steps. Exhibiting sovereignty over the waters through the impenetrable layers of multiple vessels, testing the adversary's endurance, and at last exhausting the enemy in order to make it surrender –all without the use of force, albeit 'peaceful intimidation'.

Countless incidents have surfaced in the SCS region since 2016. The Philippines has filed 211 in total as diplomatic protests against China, out of which 153 were in 2021 alone. Though this has not barred China from practicing its bellicose approach of evicting any foreign vessel from its own ratified 'nine-dash line' waters.

In each event of this illegal encroachment, China has never deterred to issue a statement on the same with a benign comeback. As an example, in the March 2021 occurrence in which 200 Chinese fishing boats entered Whitsun Reef which falls under the Philippine EEZ, China countered it by making a point that its vessels were merely seeking shelter from bad weather, claiming in addition that they weren't even a part of its maritime militia.

China has always had a readily baked response for almost every incident involving vessels of Mandarin origin.

The United States has practiced freedom of navigation operations (FONOP) from time to time near the disputed areas of the SCS. Going by the main purpose of the EEZs, it provides a nation with the ability to exercise exclusive economic rights (such as the use of minerals and resources lying beneath the seabed for economical purposes) over nearly 200 NM sea area from its own shoreline, while the region falling within 12 NM is termed as 'territorial waters'.

Nonetheless, China has its own definition of an EEZ – that one has absolute control over waters, both economically as well as territorially. When in actuality, an 'innocent passage' made by a certain vessel is not bound to any repercussions by the state in control of that EEZ.

By getting a hold on nearly all of the features based in the SCS, China attempts to build a protective wall that keeps it away from a probable threat arising from an abrupt increase in the number of U.S. bases near its landmass. Capturing each archipelago gives it a sense of authority over the ultimate EEZ that arises from the same, even if it is getting overlapped by the other nations' EEZs in some way or other.

Duterte's 'immense belief' in China's cooperation gradually came to a halt when Marcos was formally appointed as Philippine's new president. So far, Marcos has been right to balance out China with the US, through striking deals related to the economy with the former, and delving on countering territorial disputes with the latter. Despite repeatedly wording the term 'peace' in its official messaging, China finds no qualms in doing the exact opposite when it comes to action.

Only this month, Marcos granted the US temporary access to four of its military bases and has pledged to resume joint maritime patrols together. Clearly an overt attempt to frighten Shanghai, Marcos instead played soft by stating there was 'no direct threat to China'.

Opinion: Operational leases as new means to build our credible defense posture

Opinion piece posted to the Philippine Star (Feb 17, 2023): Operational leases as new means to build our credible defense posture (By Albert Del Rosario)

The latest case of Chinese bullying was the Feb. 6, 2023 incident at Ayungin Shoal where the Chinese directed a military-grade laser against the Filipino crew on a support mission, causing temporary blindness to our countrymen. This worrisome incident highlights the need to find new ways to build our country’s credible defense posture to deter further bullying in our own waters.

As part of our defense assets, our country has long relied on “excess defense articles” – meaning excess equipment donated to us by other countries.

Excess defense articles remain useful to increase our capabilities; however, the costs for reconditioning and maintaining such articles becomes prohibitive over time. The reconditioning itself is expensive and usually takes nine to 12 months to undertake.

Such excess defense articles are normally given on an “as is, where is” basis after consideration by the donor country that it no longer needs such articles. This narrows our choices on the kinds of defense assets to acquire.

Outright purchases of assets for our country’s defense are, of course, ideal but come at a high cost, given our limited resources.

As part of the options of our leadership, may we respectfully suggest the possibility of operational lease of defense assets, which may allow us to obtain newer equipment at lesser cost and with faster delivery time.

Operational leases may also give us more possibilities in terms of the types of defense assets to acquire.

A good analogy would be acquiring a car. Buying a new car is usually expensive. Reconditioning and maintaining a used and donated car may also be expensive over time. But renting or leasing a car allows us to enjoy the benefits of acquiring a relatively new car, but at a cheaper price and without the waiting time for refurbishment.

Our present leadership is taking the correct steps in defending the West Philippine Sea by pursuing joint patrols with our allies and establishing the additional “Agreed Locations” under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

Our leadership should also engage with our allies to explore the possibility of operational leases of defense assets, as part of our calibrated options to increase our country’s defense capabilities.

As we have said before, we do not expect the US and our allies to fight our battles for us, but we count on their strong and unwavering assistance in building the strength and resources of the Philippines to meet challenges, especially in the context of relentless bullying by China in our own backyard.

* * *

[Amb. Del Rosario is chair of Stratbase ADR Institute, former Philippine ambassador to the US and former foreign secretary.]

Philippines Sides With US Amid Rising Regional Tensions Between Beijing And Washington

Posted to  the Middle East North Africa Financial Network (MENAFN) (Feb 17, 2023): Philippines Sides With US Amid Rising Regional Tensions Between Beijing And Washington (By Ann Bajo)

(MENAFN- The Conversation) The US-China rivalry in east Asia has taken an interesting turn after the recent visit of US defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, to the Philippines. Austin's trip ended in an expanded deal , the enhanced defense cooperation agreement (EDCA).

This gives the US access to four additional military bases in a highly strategic region, a significant move for the Philippines, which – not so long ago – had signalled its intention to prioritise its friendship with China over the US.

Since Ferdinand“BongBong” Marcos took office as president in June 2022, the US has revitalised its engagement with the Philippines. In July, Washington appointed career diplomat MaryKay Loss Carlson as its ambassador , filling a post that had been vacant since 2020.

Washington and Manila had enjoyed a strong relationship since the end of the second world war, characterised by a continual US military presence. This was crucial during the Vietnam war and afterwards enabled a significant and continuing US military presence in the region.

But the relationship soured after the election of Rodrigo Duterte as president in 2016, who made it clear he wanted to prioritise a relationship with Beijing over Washington.

A low point was reached in 2020 when Duterte announced his decision to terminate the visiting forces agreement controlling bilateral military arrangements including legal jurisdiction over US troops in Philippines and vice versa. The Philippines president subsequently reversed his decision in 2021 , admitting he had done so in return for access to COVID-19 vaccines during the pandemic.

But Duterte's antagonism towards the US and his growing closeness to Beijing had threatened to tilt the scale of geopolitics in the region at a time of mounting tensions across east Asia over Chinese expansion.

Meanwhile in the US, anger at Duterte's shocking human rights abuses, including the extra-judicial killings of thousands during his“war in drugs” in 2016 and 2017 prompted the US Congress to debate a bill in September 2020 suspending all security aid to the Philippines.

Duterte, meanwhile, had been telling Beijing it was“time to say goodbye to Washington” and pursue closer relations with China. But this flirtation with China ultimately came to nothing. The South China dispute was left to rumble on in the background and Duterte did his best to ignore the issue.

Reviving an old friendship

During the 2022 presidential election campaign Marcos remained vague about the direction of his foreign policy. He hedged between his problematic family history with the US – which had played an important role in ending his father's dictatorship – and the ongoing south china sea dispute that has pitted Beijing against most of the rest of the region over China's territorial claims.

But since assuming office, Marcos has been firm in keeping the alliance with the US strong, and America's attitude towards the Philippines has thawed. For Washington's part, the Philippines' strategic importance to the US has only increased as China continues enact its claims to islands in the South China Sea with a growing military presence.

Washington is also disturbed by Beijing's repeated statements about its desire to “reunify” with taiwan and the increasingly authoritarian nature of its administration of hong kong .

Austin's trip marks the third high-profile visit by a US official during the first year of the Marcos presidency. In November 2022, US vice president Kamala Harris visited Palawan, a strategically important archipelago abutting the South China Sea, meeting with coast guard officials there.

It was a historic visit of a high-ranking us official to the home of the Philippine's western command whose main area of responsibility is the West Philippine Sea, the sovereignty of which is hotly contested by China. Harris reaffirmed US support for the defence alliance and keeping the Indo-Pacific free and open.

US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, also visited the philippines in August 2022 at the same time as the former house speaker, Nancy Pelosi, made her controversial visit to Taiwan. Blinken reassured Marcos of Washington's“iron-clad commitment” to the countries' mutual defense treaty. Now Austin's visit has gained the Philippines an expanded defence agreement and a potential US$100 million (£84 million) in military aid.

Local and global politics collide

The enhanced defense cooperation agreement was negotiated and signed in 2014 by the countries' respective presidents at the time, Barack Obama and Benigno Aquino. The new detente between the Biden and Marcos administrations has returned the relationship between the two countries to a firmer footing and suggests that“america's pivot to asia” has survived the pressures of the Trump administration's isolationism, Duterte's belligerence and China's increasing assertiveness in the region.

The agreement over the additional bases under the EDCA was initially negotiated in September 2022 by Austin and the newly appointed national defence senior undersecretary Jose Faustino at a meeting in Hawaii, so Beijing was well aware that the announcement was in the offing.

The maintenance of US influence in the east Asia region remains a plank of Washington's security strategy, something it ensures by making nations like the Philippines chose sides periodically. thailand , a staunch US ally during the Vietnam War which felt abandoned after the 1975 withdrawal, has been pulled in both directions too.

China has criticised the latest strengthening of the EDCA as an agreement that would“escalate regional tension and undermine regional peace and stability”.

Meanwhile Marcos – who said in January that the South China Sea issue was “keeping him awake at night” – is taking great pains to remain at least on terms with Beijing. Earlier this year, Marcos secured us$22.8 billion in new investment deals in January during a meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping in Beijing.

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine a year ago, Washington has committed significant amounts of money and military support to Ukraine. But America's greatest adversary still looms in the Indo-Pacific. And nations caught in between the two biggest global powers will continue to be bargaining chips for the two major powers while trying to get the best deal they can for themselves.

Lawmakers eye opportunities as Philippines base access expands

Posted to the Stars & Stripes (Feb 17, 2023): Lawmakers eye opportunities as Philippines base access expands (By BRIANA REILLY//CQ-ROLL CALL)

United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, walks past military guards during arrival honors at the Department of National Defense in Camp Aguinaldo military camp on Feb. 2, 2023, in Quezon City, Manila, Philippines. (Rolex Delapena, Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Lawmakers say the Pentagon's newly unlocked access to a handful of additional bases in the Philippines will boost the United States' ability to deter Chinese aggression while deepening collaboration with a key ally in the region.

While it remains to be seen what kinds of investments those four new sites in the Philippines — on top of the five existing ones established under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement — will need to ensure they're leveraged to their full potential, one House Armed Services member expects to see "strong bipartisan support" for funding in that area.

"In some ways, the heightened realization that China's not fooling around with the surveillance balloon really will help the momentum for the Philippines decision," Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., said in an interview Thursday.

In addition to enhancing DOD's strategic posture in the Indo-Pacific, the news, announced earlier this month during Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III's trip to the Philippines, supports a broader military shift toward bolstering the resiliency of current bases while distributing forces across multiple sites, making them harder to target.

Calling the Philippines "the point of the spear in the South China Sea," Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., the former head of U.S. Pacific Command (which has since been renamed U.S. Indo-Pacific Command) and a former ambassador to South Korea, underscored the importance of the expanded site access in the so-called first island chain during the House Armed Services Committee's inaugural hearing of the new Congress last week.

"It's hard to imagine a fight with the [People's Republic of China] without being able to use bases on the Philippines," he said.

Slow buildup

Under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, inked in 2014, the Philippines allowed for an increased rotation of U.S. troops, aircraft and ships in its territory. But progress under the deal was slowed under former Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's administration, which spanned 2016 to 2022.

The first five sites were announced in 2016, and the first major project — a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief warehouse — began two years after that. Those five existing bases have received more than $82 million in U.S. infrastructure investments, according to DOD's announcement Feb. 1.

Specifically, media reports from November show the U.S. committed to spending $66.5 million on training and warehouse facilities at three of those bases, with construction to start this year.

Going forward, DOD's release states that the U.S. and Philippines "have committed to move quickly in agreeing to the necessary plans and investments for the new and existing EDCA locations," though it doesn't commit to a timeline. DOD also hasn't yet disclosed the locations of the four new sites, but the announcement said they "will allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines" while responding "to other shared challenges."

Stacie Pettyjohn, a senior fellow and defense program director at the think tank Center for a New American Security, wrote in an email that significant upgrades are needed at the sites to support U.S. operations. While she commended the investments in warehouses, noting many of the supplies needed for disaster relief "are dual purpose," meaning also applicable for military use cases, she said "there is still much to be done to 'operationalize' the bases."

She pointed to boosting existing airfields with runways that she said are often too short or "not made of sufficiently strong concrete to support heavy American aircraft." She also called for additional parking ramps to allow base forces to spread out, reinforced headquarters buildings, redundant fuel tanks and pumps, heavy rapid runway repair equipment and decoys or other materials to camouflage, conceal or deceive adversaries, among other things.

These efforts would improve the survivability of U.S. military assets in the event of an attack.

"I think that there is considerable support for PDI among lawmakers and countering China, but less support for overseas military construction projects and less sexy logistics and support equipment that is needed to enable American military operations while under attack," she said, referring to the collection of DOD regional investments known as the Pacific Deterrence Initiative. "Historically, members of Congress don't like military construction dollars going overseas."

Courtney, however, signaled he's optimistic that lawmakers will rally behind Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement funding. He noted the investments lawmakers authorized and appropriated in fiscal 2023 in support of the Pentagon's various planned construction investments for northern Australia, totaling just over $500 million over the next five years. For example, members authorized and appropriated a $72.4 million Navy project at Royal Australian Air Force Base Darwin for an aircraft parking apron.

"Again, we have a big House of Representatives and lots of different perspectives that are reflected there, but I think that the Australian example, combined with China's behavior is going to, I think, really provide a lot of ballast for an initiative like the Philippine EDCA to move forward," he said.

Strategic importance

While lawmakers on the House and Senate Armed Services readiness subcommittees, which oversee military construction, didn't weigh in on funding specifics, members who provided comment on the announcement voiced support for expanded site access — particularly as a means of countering China.

"Enhanced defense cooperation between the United States and the Philippines is a credible deterrent against Communist Chinese aggression," Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., said in a statement earlier this month. "The Philippines are one of our oldest allies in the region, and these new measures are a win-win for both countries."

The 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, and the current U.S.-Philippines defense relationship, has its roots in a mutual defense treaty that dates back to 1951, established in the years after the Philippines gained independence following decades as a U.S. territory. This month, in addition to announcing the expanded site access, both countries have agreed to resume joint maritime patrols in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, Rep. John Garamendi, the ranking member of the readiness panel, noted the news from Austin's Philippines trip "will strengthen that alliance while developing coordination and cooperation between our militaries."

"It is important to look at China's illegal fishing practices and the development of bases throughout the South China Sea," the California Democrat added in a statement.

On the Senate side, Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, said in a statement Thursday that lawmakers' efforts in the region shouldn't be limited to military construction, though she acknowledged that work is "key" to maximizing the agreement in benefit of allied parties in the region.

She added that she will find chances to "prioritize infrastructure improvements in the Pacific" and Hawaii as chair of the Senate Armed Services readiness subcommittee. She said she'll be watching for DOD to include infrastructure projects in both the fiscal 2024 budget request and Pacific Deterrence Initiative.

"Our construction efforts should focus on dual use facilities that benefit the DOD and the host nations with a focus on the issues they care about, including climate change, illegal fishing, and disaster preparation," she said.

Any movement this Congress on Philippines base funding comes on top of the military services' efforts to prioritize resilience in their force and capability distribution. That includes the Marine Corps' efforts under Commandant Gen. David Berger to overhaul its force design approach in the Indo-Pacific this decade to allow for an agile, forward presence in the region.

Beyond that, the Air Force has included resilient basing among its recently released operational priorities that Secretary Frank Kendall says are critical for deterring adversaries including China and repositioning the service for the future. Asked about that priority in relation to the expanded basing announcement, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown said during a Brookings Institution event Monday that the imperative shapes how officials pre-position basic capabilities, but that for the most part those capabilities are "location-agnostic."

Still, Brown, who previously served as Pacific Air Forces commander, noted the news "provides additional opportunities for access" as officials look at resource distribution.

When considering other sites in the region, Pettyjohn noted that lawmakers' attention is often trained on active missile defenses for Guam, investments she said "are definitely needed, but alone are not sufficient for dealing with the problem."

Alaska Republican Dan Sullivan, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services readiness subcommittee, which oversees military construction, said in a brief interview Wednesday that he's raised concerns that "Guam is becoming highly concentrated" in terms of military buildup.

"Surging forces in the INDOPACOM region — you can't put everything on Guam," he said, referencing the Indo-Pacific Command area of operations as he made the case for boosting the DOD footprint in Alaska.

"Alaska's in the INDOPACOM and a lot of the time, you don't have people who think that, who know it," he added. "We have to distribute forces, so the Philippines, yes, Alaska, yes, and Guam, not so highly concentrated."

Bilateral defense deals between Tokyo and Manila could reshape Indo-Pacific security

Posted to The Japan Times (Feb 17, 2023): Bilateral defense deals between Tokyo and Manila could reshape Indo-Pacific security (By RICHARD JAVAD HEYDARIAN)

Marcos visited Japan in search of a key partner to play a pivotal role in Manila’s foreign policy direction

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. review an honor guard at the Prime Minister's Official Residence in Tokyo on Feb. 9. | POOL VIA REUTERS

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s recent five-day trip to Tokyo is arguably his most consequential sojourn overseas since taking power more than seven months ago.

By all accounts, it was a highly successful visit, which saw the Filipino leader securing $13 billion in investment pledges, $3 billion in infrastructure loans and a whole host of cooperation agreements aimed at boosting the Philippines’ agriculture, health care and digital economy sectors.

What’s more, the leaders of Japan and the Philippines also laid the foundations for a new era in bilateral defense cooperation that is poised to have major implications for the Indo-Pacific region. Shortly after Marcos’ decision to grant Washington expanded access to key Philippine bases facing the South China Sea and Taiwan, the Filipino leader also confirmed ongoing discussions over a new tripartite Philippine-U.S.-Japan security deal.

Meanwhile, the Philippines and Japan are close to finalizing a reciprocal access agreement that is expected to deepen interoperability and expand joint military exercises between the two countries’ armed forces. Japan has also reportedly agreed to include the Southeast Asian nation among its first beneficiaries of a new overseas security assistance package, with a particular focus on enhancing the Philippines’ maritime security and domain awareness capabilities.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to visit the Philippines later this year to, among other things, discuss the possibility of a visiting forces agreement deal that would place Japan on par with the United States and Australia.

Buoyed by his successful visit to Japan, Marcos has taken an increasingly tough stance against China’s aggressive behavior, going so far as personally summon Beijing’s envoy in Manila to express his displeasure over the latest tensions in the South China Sea.

Less than a year into power, Marcos is overseeing nothing less than a quiet revolution in Philippine foreign policy, with key partners such as Japan playing a pivotal role in Manila’s new strategic vision for the Indo-Pacific.

A month earlier, Marcos visited Beijing for his first major state visit overseas. Although the trip culminated in sizeable investment pledges by China, the two sides couldn’t agree on any concrete deals beyond generic statements. For instance, Beijing didn’t clarify the fate of even a single big-ticket infrastructure project in the Philippines and largely skirted around the festering disputes in the South China Sea.

For Filipinos, China is renowned for what can be described as a “pledge trap” — empty promises of large-scale investments in exchange for geopolitical acquiescence. Under the Beijing-friendly Rodrigo Duterte administration, which soft-pedaled on the South China Sea disputes, China failed to accomplish any big-ticket projects despite its investment pledge of $24 billion in 2016.

As Duterte’s former budget secretary and current Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno admitted, Japan has been responsible for the bulk of foreign financing for domestic infrastructure projects in the Philippines. With few, if any, breakthroughs during his Beijing trip, Marcos’ visit to Tokyo gained even greater salience.

In recent decades, Japan has emerged as one of the Philippines’ most important economic partners. Not only is Japan the No. 1 source of development aid and infrastructure investments, it’s also the only nation to have signed a bilateral free trade deal — the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement — with Manila. But far from falling into complacency, the two sides doubled down on their substantial economic partnership during Marcos’ visit to Tokyo.

The two sides vowed to press ahead with implementing a whole host of Japan-backed infrastructure initiatives, including the north-south commuter railway and north-south commuter railway for Malolos-Tutuban projects. They also underscored their commitment to finalizing Manila’s first underground metro system in the near future, while jointly modernizing the Philippines’ air transport system.

Following his meetings with top Japanese businessmen, Marcos secured up to $13 billion in investment pledges, which are expected to generate as many as 24,000 jobs. Japan also agreed to assist the Philippines’ ongoing efforts to modernize its agriculture sector, upgrade its digital infrastructure and build a universal health care system.

What made Marcos’ Japan visit even more consequential is the increasingly defense-oriented nature of bilateral relations in recent years. Over the past year, Japan participated in major multilateral drills hosted by the Philippines, including the “Balikatan,” “Kamandag,” “Sama-Sama” and “Lumbas” military exercises, which collectively aim to enhance interoperability among the United States and its key allies in the region.

Both Washington and Canberra have relevant bilateral defense deals with Manila, namely a visiting forces agreement, which provides the legal framework for regularized and large-scale military exercises. Japan seeks a similarly close defense relationship with the Philippines.

During Marcos’ trip, the two sides signed an agreement on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief activities that facilitates a limited degree of nontraditional security interoperability between Japanese and Philippine forces. In the near future, the two sides will seek to sign an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement and, down the road, a full-fledged visiting forces agreement, which would allow Japan to conduct large-scale joint military activities and drills with the Philippines.

In their joint statement, the two sides emphasized the need for “reciprocal port calls and aircraft visits, transfer of more defense equipment and technology, continuous cooperation on previously transferred defense equipment and capacity building” in order to address shared geopolitical threats.

Japan also agreed to provide the Philippines with defense aid, including 97-meter patrol vessels and modern surveillance systems that are crucial to the Southeast Asian country’s maritime defense.

Crucially, both the Philippines and Japan also underscored their commitment to further enhancing trilateral defense cooperation with Washington amid growing speculations over a new U.S.-Philippine-Japan tripartite military deal in the near future. Marcos has remained mum on the precise details of the proposed agreement, but clearly the Philippines’ decision to grant the Pentagon expanded access to bases close to Taiwan’s shores has, in the words of U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, contributed to a “significant strategic reshuffling” in the region.

There is, however, no room for complacency. To begin with, Japan will have to up its public diplomacy by more proactively explaining the merits of infrastructure investments in the Philippines as well as its new defense posture. After all, progressive groups and pro-China elements in Manila will certainly mobilize against any expanded Philippine-Japan defense cooperation by invoking, among other things, Tokyo’s militarist past and widespread atrocities during World War II.

Thus, it’s crucial for Tokyo to win over not only Marcos but also the broader Philippine public, civil society groups and, above all, independent-minded legislators, who will scrutinize any major bilateral defense deal. In the past, the Philippine Senate, which has the constitutional mandate to approve defense treaties, voted in favor of ending U.S. permanent bases and, for years, dragged its feet on ratifying the Philippine-Australia Status of Visiting Forces Agreement. Thus, legislative support for any major deal between Japan and the Philippines is not a foregone conclusion.

Thus, Japan will have to address legitimate concerns over historical revisionism, address compensation issues regarding “comfort women” victims in the Philippines and actively win over relevant stakeholders, who are crucial to the approval and smooth implementation of any major Philippine-Japan defense deal in the future. It also has to reassure the Philippines that any expanded Japanese military presence in the Southeast Asian country won’t lead to, as in the case of several American soldiers in recent decades, human rights and sexual abuses against host communities.

What’s more, Japan also has to justify the legality of any expanded overseas military deployment under its ostensibly pacifist constitution, which is yet to be amended. After six years of populist antics and geopolitical uncertainty under the Beijing-leaning Duterte administration, the Philippines is now actively courting closer defense and strategic cooperation with traditional allies against a resurgent China.

Notwithstanding major geopolitical realignments in the region, strategic reassurance and expansive economic relations will be crucial to determining the future of Philippine-Japan relations.

[Richard Javad Heydarian is a senior lecturer at the University of the Philippines, Asian Center and author of, among others, “The Indo-Pacific: Trump, China and the New Struggle for Global Mastery.”]

Philippine politician voices concern over US military presence in country’s north

Posted to the Stars & Stripes (Feb 17, 2023): Philippine politician voices concern over US military presence in country’s north (By SETH ROBSON)

U.S. and Philippine marines and sailors conduct an amphibious landing during Balikatan training in the province of Cagayan, Philippines, March 31, 2022. (Madison Santamaria/U.S. Marine Corps)

Efforts to expand U.S. military access in the Philippines have met opposition from a provincial governor in the country’s north, a Philippine newspaper reported recently.

The Philippine government announced this month it would add four installations to five sites where U.S. forces will have access under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

One of the new sites may be in Cagayan, a coastal province on the main island of Luzon that’s 300 miles south of Taiwan, according to Carlyle Thayer, an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales and a lecturer at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

However, Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba said an expanded U.S. military presence in his province could expose it to nuclear attack, according to the Manila Standard on Feb. 11.

“Any foreign forces are not welcome here,” he said, according to the newspaper. “This is my personal opinion; at the least, I have to consult our people, though I knew this is the right thing.”

The new sites will be revealed after a consultation process, Philippines Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. told reporters Feb. 2 in Manila alongside U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Three will be in the northern Philippines, one each in Zambales and Palawan provinces in addition to one in Cagayan province, Thayer said in a Feb. 2 briefing paper.

People in Cagayan won’t allow conflict with neighbors such as China, Taiwan, Japan or Korea, Mamba told the Standard.

If the national government grants U.S. forces access to a site in Cagayan, Mamba suggested Puga, a 27-square-mile island north of Luzon, according to the report. The island, he said, is home to 2,000 residents who could be evacuated to the mainland in wartime.

“I am not pro-China nor pro-America rather I am pro-Cagayan and do what is best for the populace of the province and I am for our country,” Mamba said, according to the report.

The governor’s position is a hurdle, but opposition to U.S. basing in the Philippines, while vocal, is not extensive, Thayer said in an email Thursday.

Patricio Abinales, a Philippines expert at the University of Hawaii, said Mamba’s comments were “just swagger.” The financial opportunities of hosting U.S. forces would be enough to overcome local opposition, he said.

(Noga Ami-rav/Stars and Stripes)

The Philippines have already agreed to shared use by U.S. forces of five bases: Basa Air Base, Antonio Bautista Air Base, Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base, Fort Magsaysay and Lumbia Air Base.

The U.S. in 2015 requested access to Subic Bay and Clark Air Base, Thayer said in September.

The installations, just north of Manila, formed America’s largest overseas military community before both were damaged in the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo and, soon after, returned to the Philippines.

U.S. forces already use both installations regularly.

They may not require a shared-use designation since both are privatized and accommodate commercial access, Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said in a Twitter message Thursday.

U.S. military planners focus on the Philippines as they consider dispersing their forces among small islands in the Western Pacific and size up the prospect of a conflict over Taiwan.

For example, members of the Marine Corps’ newly formed 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment practiced expeditionary advanced base operations during the annual Balikatan drills in the Philippines in April.

This month, air forces from the U.S., Japan, Australia and France are training at sites spread across 1,200 miles of the Pacific Ocean, from Iwo Jima to Palau.

U.S. interest in dispersing its forces throughout the Western Pacific will spread risk to more locations, Leland Bettis, director of the Guam-based Pacific Center for Island Security research institute, said in an email Thursday.

[Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.]

Opinion: Is Marcos Jr aiding a new Cold War in the Indo-Pacific?

Opinion piece posted to The National (UAE) (Feb 17, 2023): Is Marcos Jr aiding a new Cold War in the Indo-Pacific? (By RICHARD HEYDARIAN)

The Philippine president has inadvertently injected his country into the deepening US-China rivalry

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr during a summit in Brussels last December. Reuters

Throughout his first six months in office, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr touted a new era of “independent” foreign policy, whereby the South-East Asian nation is “a friend to all, and an enemy of none”. The Filipino leader said it was essential for smaller nations to avoid getting dragged into superpower rivalries by explicitly rejecting any kind of “Cold War” mentality.

On the one hand, he restored historically warm ties with the West following a few years of “rocky times” under former president Rodrigo Duterte, who repeatedly threatened to end his country’s defence alliance with America. At the same time, he also embraced a new “golden age” of bilateral relations with China.

Mr Marcos Jr spoke about the need to embrace a multipolar global order, thus deriving maximum strategic benefits from a diverse network of partnerships and alliances. To this end, he embarked on a globetrotting diplomatic campaign, conducting as many as eight foreign visits in barely seven months, spanning from New York and Brussels to Beijing and Davos. This month, he visited Japan, with trips to the White House and probably the Elysee Palace planned later this year.

In a major turn of events, however, Mr Marcos Jr recently agreed to fully implement and even expand the parameters of the Philippine-US Enhanced Defence Co-operation Agreement (EDCA), which grants the Pentagon rotational access to strategic bases across the Philippines. During US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to Manila this month, the Philippines agreed to open up as many as nine bases, including those close to the South China Sea as well as Taiwan’s southern shores, to the Pentagon. And during his recent trip to Tokyo, the Filipino president discussed the prospects of new defence deals with the Asian power as well as a broader US-Philippine-Japan tripartite military agreement.

All of a sudden, the Philippines has become pivotal to the US-led “integrated deterrence” strategy in the Indo-Pacific, aimed at constraining China’s expanding strategic footprint in the vital region. In response, China warned the Philippines against involvement in superpower rivalry and escalation of tensions in Asia.

Few saw this coming. Countless experts and observers expected Mr Marcos Jr to continue his predecessor’s China-friendly foreign policy. As a presidential candidate, he consistently backed Mr Duterte’s foreign policy posture. Following his election victory, he promised to elevate bilateral relations to new heights during a phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr meets US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin in Manila this month. EPA

A quiet day this month in what used to be the US's largest overseas naval base at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone. AP Photo

Beyond tough rhetoric, it remains to be seen whether China will offer more carrots or sticks to express its displeasure

Even more, Mr Marcos Jr has repeatedly harkened back to his late father and former president Ferdinand Marcos Sr’s historic trip to Beijing in the mid-1970s, which paved the way for normalisation of bilateral ties with Maoist China. In fact, as a princeling, Mr Marcos Jr himself met chairman Mao Zedong. Even after his father’s ouster following the People Power revolution in 1986, the Marcoses maintained warm relations with Beijing.

As a former governor of the province of Ilocos Norte, Mr Marcos Jr pursued close diplomatic and commercial ties with Beijing. As president, he characterised China as an indispensable partner for infrastructure development and post-pandemic economic recovery.

And similar to Mr Duterte, he chose Beijing as his first major state visit outside Association of South-East Asian Nations, ahead of traditional allies of the US and Japan. During his trip to China last month, he was accompanied by a large delegation of businessmen, technocrats and influential statesmen and stateswomen, including former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who negotiated huge infrastructure projects with China as well as a joint energy exploration agreement in the South China Sea.

Following his meetings with top Chinese officials last month, Mr Marcos Jr secured $22.8 billion in investment pledges as well as a dozen agreements concerning all aspects of bilateral trade relations.

By all indications, however, the trip failed to resolve outstanding concerns in their bilateral relations. Beijing didn’t provide any clarity on the fate of mostly unfulfilled promises of big-ticket infrastructure investments in the Philippines. More crucially, there was no breakthrough in terms of festering maritime spats in the South China Sea aside from vague promises of addressing alleged harassment of Filipino fishermen by Chinese vessels in the disputed areas.

Against the backdrop of a relatively disappointing visit, Mr Marcos Jr has doubled down on his pivot to traditional allies and partners. In fairness, early on he did signal a subtle yet significant shift in Philippine foreign policy by, inter alia, taking a tougher stance against China’s expansive claims across the South China Sea. He also suspended a major defence deal with Russia as well as a number of infrastructure projects with China, negotiated under the previous administration.

In contrast to Mr Duterte, who sought to nix his country’s defence relations with the West, Mr Marcos Jr has publicly praised America’s supposedly stabilising role in Asia. While Mr Duterte refused to visit any western capital throughout his six-year term in office, Mr Marcos Jr warmly welcomed several top US officials to Manila, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and most recently Mr Austin.

He also met US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of a number of summits last year, with a potential state visit in the cards later this year. The Filipino president, however, has upped the ante by greenlighting an expansion in bilateral military co-operation with significant implications for regional security.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo earlier this month. Reuters

Ferdinand Marcos Jr shakes hands with Chinese officials in the presence of President Xi Jinping in Beijing, also in February. AFP

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After years of uncertainty and delays, thanks to Mr Duterte’s opposition to US troop presence in the Philippines, Mr Marcos Jr has decided to fully implement a defence pact with Washington. Shortly after Mr Austin’s landing in Manila, the US Department of Defence released a statement, which underscored the “full implementation” of the EDCA, which is “a key pillar of the US-Philippines alliance, which supports combined training, exercises, and interoperability between our forces”.

Under EDCA, US troops will not only gain rotational access to designated Philippine bases, but also be allowed to preposition weapons system and advanced military hardware. Crucially, the Marcos administration expanded the number of EDCA bases from five to nine, though refusing to disclose the exact location of four additional bases.

Among disclosed bases are the Bautista and Basa air bases, which are near the disputed land features in the South China Sea. It is widely believed that the undisclosed additional bases are mostly located in the northern portions of the country, particularly the Isabela and Cagayan provinces, which are close to Taiwan’s shores.

Meanwhile, the two allies have also agreed to increase the number of their joint military exercises this year from 300 to 500, and expanding the number of troops in the annual Balikatan joint exercises, which will take place in Ilocos Norte.

On the surface, the EDCA and expanded joint military activities are centred on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations and job creation. But they are also clearly geared towards deterrence of and preparation for any potential military showdown with China either in the South China Sea or over Taiwan, if not both. A reaffirmation of this line of thinking would be Mr Marcos Jr’s keenness to expand military ties with Japan.

Enraged by the Philippines’ EDCA decision, the Chinese Foreign Ministry criticised the US for supposedly pursuing “its selfish agenda” and warned the two allies against “[any] act that escalates tensions in the region and endangers regional peace and stability”.

Beyond tough rhetoric, it remains to be seen whether China will offer more carrots, namely infrastructure investments, or sticks, namely expanded military and paramilitary activities in the South China Sea, to express its displeasure. What’s clear, however, is that Mr Marcos Jr has, perhaps inadvertently, injected his country into the centre of a deepening superpower rivalry in the Indo-Pacific.
Published: February 17, 2023, 2:00 AM

[Richard Javad Heydarian is a Manila-based academic, columnist and author]

Deeper defense ties with US: What it means for PH

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 17, 2023): Deeper defense ties with US: What it means for PH (By: Kurt Dela Peña - Content Researcher Writer)


MANILA, Philippines—Far from how it was when Rodrigo Duterte was still in Malacañang, ties between the Philippines and the United States (US) are now rekindling, with the two countries accelerating the full implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca), which was signed in 2014.

Looking back, Duterte, in 2016, threatened to scrap the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that provided simplified access procedures to the Philippines for US military men on official business, and a series of procedures for how to resolve issues that may come up as a result of the presence of American soldiers in the Philippines.

But as Ferdinand Marcos Jr. assumed office on June 30, 2022 over a month after winning the presidency with 31,629,783 votes, the Philippines has strengthened its ties with the US, a clear reversal from Duterte’s often-hostile attitude towards the United States, which he once said the Philippines has separated from.

As Marcos said last Feb. 2, “again, I have always said that it seems to me that the future of the Philippines and, for that matter, the Asia-Pacific will always have to involve the US simply because those ties are so strong and so historically embedded in our common psyches that can only be an advantage to both our countries.”

READ: US gets access to more PH bases

This, as the defense secretaries of the Philippines and the US—Carlito Galvez and Lloyd Austin III—announced that the two countries agreed to four more Edca bases.

WATCH: Panunutok ng China ng military grade laser sa PCG, pangalawang beses na | Chona Yu

As Austin said, “from defense perspective, we will continue to work together with our great partners and to build and modernize your capabilities as well as increase our interoperability.”

But what does this mean for the Philippines, which was once home to massive US military presence after World War II?

Expanded Edca

Last Feb. 2, as Austin arrived at the headquarters of the Department of National Defense (DND) in Quezon City on Feb. 2, Galvez said the Philippines granted the US access to four more military bases, amid concerns over China’s continued aggression in the West Philippine Sea and a potential invasion of Taiwan.

The agreement is an expansion of the Edca, which the late President Benigno Aquino III signed with the US in 2014—which the Supreme Court ruled was an executive agreement that was part of the larger agreements VFA and the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaties that needed Philippine Senate nod.

With the expansion, the DND said the Philippines and the US are “proud to announce their plans to accelerate the full implementation of the Edca with the agreement to designate four ‘agreed locations’ in strategic areas of the country and the substantial completion of the projects in the existing five ‘agreed locations’.”


The five existing “agreed locations” are the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City. The one in Palawan is the closest to the Kalayaan Island Group, while the one in Nueva Ecija is the country’s largest military camp.

As to where the new Edca bases will be located is not yet certain, with Galvez saying that the government is still consulting with the local governments concerned.

READ: US, PH agree to four new Edca sites

“We withhold the announcement of the Edca sites because our protocols and also our diplomatic notes have not been completed.”

“We need to complete all the staff work, including our consultations with the local government units,” Galvez said.

But looking back, some military officials revealed last year that the US asked for access to military bases in Cagayan, Zambales, Isabela and Palawan, provinces that face either the West Philippine Sea or Taiwan.

PH-US relations

The Philippines has been a treaty ally of the US since 1951, when it signed with the MDT that bound the two countries to support each other should one of them be attacked by external forces—an agreement which the US said is a foundation for close security cooperation between the two countries.

But even before the MDT was signed, the Philippines had allowed the US to establish and operate air and naval bases for 99 years in 1947 through the Military Bases Agreement (MBA), which was later amended to reduce the tenure to only 25 years. As a result, the agreement was expected to end in 1991.


The US had the chance to extend its tenure, but the Philippine Senate rejected in 1991 the RP-US Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Peace that would have given the US 10 more years at the Subic Bay Naval Base, which was the United States’ last military outpost in Southeast Asia then. The MBA ended in 1992.

However, in 1998 and 1999, the VFA was signed and ratified, providing simplified access procedures to the Philippines for US service members on official business and a series of procedures for how to resolve issues that may come up as a result of US service members being present in the Philippines.

As the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said, the VFA “provides clear procedures and processes for how to handle issues that arise as a result of the presence of US service members in the Philippines,” like what happened in 2015, when “a US Marine was tried and convicted of killing a Filipina.”

It was referring to the case of American soldier Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. But because of the VFA, he served his sentence in a facility established by the Philippines and the US rather than the New Bilibid Prison.

He was released in 2020 through absolute pardon granted by Duterte, a move condemned by progressive groups.

The CSIS also said the VFA is a “political signal of the closeness” of the alliance between the Philippines and the US, with “analysts and former officials believing that signaling close ties between the US and the Philippines supports efforts to deter China from further encroaching on Philippines’ sovereignty.”

Over 15 years later, the Edca was signed, allowing the US to preposition personnel, equipment and supplies at selected military bases in the Philippines to quickly respond in times of natural disasters and other crises. This, however, was criticized as a violation of the Constitution.

As explained by international studies professor Renato de Castro, the agreement allows US service members to use facilities owned and controlled by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), but ensures that the base commander of the Philippines retains free access to those locations.

“Likewise, the US military will be able to build or improve the infrastructure inside these installations, but Philippine forces will be able to jointly use them. Any construction and other activities within Philippine bases requires the consent of the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board,” he said.

Stronger defense?

The DND said Edca is designed to promote between the Philippines and the US interoperability, capacity building toward AFP modernization, strengthening AFP for external defense, maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

De Castro explained in 2016 that once the Edca is implemented, a contingent of US service members will be deployed to the Philippines on a short-term and rotational basis: “This will probably include the stationing of a squadron of US Marine fighter planes in a Philippine Air Force base for six months,” he said.


He said US service members will be stationed in the country through these access arrangements—the forward operating sites, which are expandable and partially equipped facilities with limited US military support presence, and cooperative security locations, which are facilities maintained by the Philippines with little or no constant US presence.

RELATED STORY: What is the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and what does it mean for PH?

The presence of the US military will strengthen the Philippines’ resolve to uphold its territorial and maritime claims in the West Philippine Sea, De Castro, who is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Albert Del Rosario Institute of Strategic and International Studies, said in a CSIS column.

“By increasing the US’ ability to respond to crises in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), the Edca could also test American credibility regarding its defense commitment to the Philippines,” he said.

“Though the maritime row in the South China Sea will be a long-term security challenge and will never be solved solely through force, the potential for an armed conflict requires the presence of an effective US deterrent force in the region. The Edca is aimed at producing such a deterrence posture,” he added.

Take as an example what former SC Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said after a China Coast Guard ship struck a patrol vessel of the Philippines with military-grade laser that harmed some of its crew, an action which he said constitutes an armed attack: “The Philippines can thus invoke the MDT.”

READ: Carpio: PH can invoke MDT on Chinese laser ‘attack’

With China’s aggression, Carpio told ANC on Wednesday (Feb. 15) that the Philippines really has to think of strengthening its alliances, stressing that “you have to look at the history of the South China Sea”—1995, the Mischief Reef was seized; 2012, the Scarborough Shoal was seized; 2017, Sandy Cay was seized.

He said China’s actions are not a reaction to the recent visits of Austin and even US Vice President Kamala Harris to the Philippines, saying that China has long planned this. With this, he said setting aside the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 decision and setting aside relations with treaty allies will not stop China.

“We have to use allies,” he said, taking as an example countries that want the US to stay as an assurance that they will not be left behind.

“Us, what is our assurance? Our assurance is Edca,” he said, explaining that while the Philippines does not want to station US service members, equipment should be kept in bases so that the military can use it when there is a crisis.

Fast response, economic gains

Back in 2014, the DND released some of the key aspects of the Edca, including its purpose and how to attain its objectives. As it said then, “we are currently holding joint training exercises such as Balikatan and undertaking humanitarian assistance and disaster relief cooperation such as in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan, the strongest typhoon to hit land).”

It explained then that “to improve on the above, we intend to undertake additional cooperation by way of construction of facilities and infrastructure upgrades, and storage and prepositioning of defense and humanitarian assistance and disaster response equipment, supplies and material.”


Looking back, when Yolanda, which was considered the strongest to ever hit land, struck the Visayas in 2013, the VFA allowed for some 13,000 military men, 66 aircraft, and 12 naval vessels to deliver more than 2,500 tons of relief goods and evacuate over 21,000 people.

Likewise, Galvez said the Edca expansion is not only about security and defense but also economic gains, especially for the communities and local government units (LGUs) that will host the military bases, aside from strengthening their protection from the effects of climate change through intensified mitigation efforts and more immediate disaster response.

“It is our fervent hope that our LGUs will also realize that the Edca is not just about security. We enjoin them to look into potential foreign investments and economic development that Edca sites will bring to their communities, as well as the enhancement of the protection of our areas that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the quicker response and mitigation if our front liners are called to action,” he said.

To date, the US has allocated over $82 million in infrastructure investments in the existing five sites.

As written by William Berry Jr., “most Filipino opponents and proponents of the bases agree that the bases do contribute to the economy,” however, “they tend to disagree as to whether the Philippines could make the necessary adjustments to absorb the economic dislocations if the bases close.”

He stated that the Philippines has received $481 million in US compensation yearly as a result of the MBA, but “compensation in the form of economic and military assistance programs is only part of the economic equation.”

“Employment opportunities, local contracting, American support for international loans to the Philippines, and the possible attraction of foreign investment are also some of the economic effects involved directly or indirectly with the presence of the bases,” Berry said in his article “The Effects of the US Military Bases on the Philippine Economy.”

He said employment was a big problem for the Corazon Aquino administration then, not only because of the economic decline which took place in the last years of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s regime, but also because of the expanding population that placed a strong demand for the government to create new jobs.

Back then, the US military bases was the second largest single employer in the Philippines after the government itself. Berry said at the conclusion of the fiscal year ending in September 1987 that the bases employed 68, 514 Filipinos—23,168 full-time employees, 22,834 contract employees, 22,068 domestics and private hires, and 444 concessionaires.

“Wages paid to base employees in 1987 totaled more than $96 million,” he said. Likewise, the MBA amendments included provisions encouraging the US to increase local procurement of products required by the bases, and the US has attempted to comply with these obligations, Berry said.

Clark Air Base, for the fiscal year ending in September 1987, purchased more than $53 million worth of goods and services from Filipino contractors, ranging from cement for aircraft runways to food, like vegetables, sold in the commissary. Then at the Subic Naval Base, the US spent more than $150 million.
Concerns still persist

But of course, this is just one side of the picture as concerns as to whether the presence of US military in the Philippines would bring good or not still persist, like ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, who stressed on Feb. 4 that “as Filipinos, we have a responsibility to uphold the Constitution and never give up the sovereignty of the Philippines.”

“Let us not sacrifice our sovereignty on the promise that they are here for ‘mutual defense’ and supposed visit, because the damage and disadvantage to our people are greater than the gains. Let us end their excursion into our country and let us not allow ourselves to be used as pawns of their war,” she said.

Castro also warned of the possibility of the Philippines being used as a testing ground for US nuclear weapons based on the 123 agreements brandished by Harris on what she called “civil” nuclear cooperation.

The Edca expansion also prompted the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan to stress that the Philippines should not be allowed to be used as a “staging ground” for what it called US military intervention in the region.

Even House Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto raised concerns on the expansion: “In principle, this is an administration prerogative I support. But I ask that whatever agreements be made public and the pros and cons be told.”

“National security is not harmed by that candor. But any secrecy will deal with transparency, an avowed hallmark of this administration, a serious blow,” he said.

READ: Recto to Marcos: Disclose location of new Edca sites, reason for expansion

Recto then asked how the Philippines will benefit from expanding Edca sites in the country.

“Will the nation win with that move? And what are the possible nuisances that it may cause, if any?”

“How many more military bases will they have access to as time passes? Are we being built up as their armed garrison in the Pacific as a tripwire to Chinese expansionism?” he said while asking defense officials to thoroughly review the agreement’s “ramifications, specifically the potential reaction from other states and our planned responses,” Recto said.

18 alleged NPA members surrender to police in Eastern Visayas

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 17, 2023): 18 alleged NPA members surrender to police in Eastern Visayas (By: Joey Gabieta)

Eastern Visayas map. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

TACLOBAN CITY — Eighteen communist rebels surrendered to the local police in Eastern Visayas on Friday.

The alleged members of the New People’s Army (NPA) said they decided to abandon their former comrades due to hardships in the mountains and to avail of the government programs for rebel returnees.

Of the 18 surrenderers, seven were from Eastern Samar; six from Samar; and five, from Northern Samar. They also surrendered several firearms and a grenade.

“Ka James” said he went to the mountains and joined the communist armed group after he suffered military abuse during the tenure of the controversial former Major Gen. Jovito Palparan.

Palparan was the region’s top military official in 2015 and was credited for the “significant reduction” of the number of rebels in the region.

READ: FULL TEXT: The conviction of Palparan

He is now detained after a court found him guilty of kidnapping and serious illegal detention in connection to the abduction and disappearance of two University of the Philippines (UP) students, Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan, in 2006.

Brig. Gen. Rommel Francisco Marbil, police regional director, said he was glad that the rebels decided to return to the folds of the law and live a normal life.

“And to those who are still in doubt of the government, please, this is your time to live anew. Make your children proud of you for choosing the right path,” he said.

“Indeed, their reintegration into the government is the best decision they have made to welcome genuine development for peace and progress,” he added.

Since the start of the year, 93 former NPA members have surrendered to government forces in the region.

Marbil commended the efforts of his personnel who have been relentless in the campaign against insurgency and other lawless elements.

“It is through your dedication and commitment to public safety and orderliness that our brothers and sisters in the armed struggle have realized to come back to our one government,” the police regional director said.

Army prevents NPA extortion try in Capiz town

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 17, 2023): Army prevents NPA extortion try in Capiz town (By Tara Yap)

ILOILO CITY -– The 12th Infantry Battalion (12 IB) of the Philippine Army prevented an extortion attempt by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Dumalag town, Capiz province on Friday, Feb. 17.

Together with a mobile force company of the Philippine National Police, the 12 IB soldiers fought around five armed NPA rebels in Duran village on Friday morning.

The NPA rebels withdrew and fled toward the southeast direction.

The government troops believed that there might have been hit on NPA rebels’ side during the brief skirmishes owing to the heavy bloodstains that were found along the route.

The government troops recovered a homemade 12-gauge shotgun, a .45 caliber pistol, two antipersonnel mines with detonator switches, a hand grenade, five magazines for M16 rifle, two magazines for .45 caliber pistol, assorted ammunition, personal belongings, assorted medicine and subversive documents.

The hierarchy of the 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) lauded the residents for readily informing the government troops of the rebels’ presence.

“The vigilance of residents in providing the soldiers reliable information on the whereabouts and activities of the NPA is exceedingly helpful to our anti-insurgency efforts,” said Lieutenant General Benedict Arevalo, commander of the 3ID, and also of the Visayas army.

Bomber eludes arrest but pal held in Zamboanga City

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 17, 2023): Bomber eludes arrest but pal held in Zamboanga City (By Liza Abubakar-Jocson)

ZAMBOANGA CITY – A suspected bomber eluded arrest while his cohort was arrested during a police operation here on Friday morning, Feb. 17.

MAYOR John Dalipe and Zamboanga City police director Col. Alexander Lorenzo present bombing suspect Omar Mabanza to the media. (Photo via Liza Jocson)

Col. Alexander Lorenzo, Zamboanga City police director, led Zamboanga police and military units in the operation to arrest a certain Jomar Mohammad in Sitio Dulian, Barangay Calabasa.

Mohammad sensed the arrival of authorities and escaped.

His cohort, Omar Mabanza, was arrested and bomb-making components were seized.

Police are investigating Mohammad’s connection to a reported plan by the Abu Sayyaf to rescue inmates from the San Ramon Penal Colony here.

Mabanza was placed under tactical interrogation and presented to the media in the presence of Mayor John Dalipe.

4 high-risk ASG inmates transferred to Metro Manila from Zamboanga City after rescue plot uncovered

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 17, 2023): 4 high-risk ASG inmates transferred to Metro Manila from Zamboanga City after rescue plot uncovered (By Liza Abubakar-Jocson)

ZAMBOANGA CITY – Four high-risk prisoners were transferred to Metro Manila after authorities uncovered a plot by the Abu Sayyaf Group to rescued their comrades incarcerated at the San Ramon Penal Colony here.

Bureau of Corrections officials immediately secured all the prisoners after receiving an intelligence report about the ASG plot.

SAN Ramon Penal Colony. (PNA photo)

Two of these high-risk prisoners were transferred on Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 15, followed by two others on Thursday, Feb. 16.

They were airlifted to Manila after being transported to the Zamboanga City International Airport from the San Ramon Penal Colony.

This was the second rescue plot uncovered by authorities here. In January 2015, authorities uncovered a plan by Basilan-based ASG members to rescue their comrades from the Zamboanga City Reformatory Center.

Kalinaw News: Wanted NPA rebel surrenders, tips off government forces on arms cache location in Quezon

From Kalinaw News (Feb 17. 2023): Wanted NPA rebel surrenders, tips off government forces on arms cache location in Quezon

CAMP CAPINPIN, Rizal – A wanted NPA rebel surrendered to the government forces and revealed the location of an arms cache in Macalelon, Quezon on February 15, 2023.

On February 13, the Lopez Municipal Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict headed by Hon. Mayor Rachel A. Ubana and Sam Francisco B Barangay Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict headed by Barangay Chairperson Leonito R. Delmo facilitated the voluntary surrender of alias Sario, a member of Platun Reymark from the Southern Tagalog Regional Party Committee’s Sub-Regional Military Area 4B. Alias Sario has three existing warrants of arrest for attempted murder, attempted homicide, and violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 or RA 11479.

Subsequently, on February 15, troops from the 85th Infantry Battalion and Quezon PNP conducted combat operations at Barangay Vista Hermosa in Macalelon after alias Sario revealed an arms cache was hidden in the area. Among the items recovered by the troops at the house of alias Oli were two M16 rifles, one M1 caliber 30 carbine, two caliber 38 revolvers, one Improvised Explosive Device, one blasting cap, five magazines, 100 rounds of 5.56mm live ammunition, 80 meters wire, and three 9-volts batteries.

“We are grateful for the support of our kababayans and the former rebels who continuously work with us to achieve genuine peace and progress in this part of the country. Together with our key stakeholders in the NTF-ELCAC, we are urging the remaining terrorists to yield to the folds of the law and avail the government programs and benefits to help them start their lives anew,” 2ID Commander Maj. Gen. Roberto S. Capulong said in a statement.

Kalinaw News is the official online source of information on the pursuit for peace in the Philippines This website is a property of the Civil-Military Operations Regiment, Philippine Army located at Lawton Avenue, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.