Philippines, US sign EDCA in time for Obama visit

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Monday, April 28, 2014

PHILIPPINES AND United States officials signed Monday the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), hours before the scheduled two-day state visit of US President Barack Obama to Manila.

The pact is envisioned to advance the implementation of the two countries Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and shall allow a bigger US military presence in the country for a period of 10 years.

The deal was signed by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador to Manila Philip Goldberg. The signing was held at the Armed Forces of the Philippines General Headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

In his speech, Gazmin said the agreement will help the Philippines strengthen its military capabilities for external and territorial defense most especially now "that the country is experiencing increasing challenges."

"The agreement we signed today does not only manifest deepened relationship bet Philippines and US, but, it equally serves as a framework for furthering the alliance against challenges," he said.

The negotiations between the two said countries regarding EDCA started in August 2013 and reached its last round, the 8th round, in March 2014.

The EDCA stated that the US would "not establish a permanent military presence or base in the Philippines," the US military troops has access to and use of designated areas in AFP owned and controlled facilities (Agreed Locations), responsibility for security on the agreed locations will remain with the Philippines, there will be a full access for the AFP base commander to the entire agreed locations, the buildings and infrastructure which will be constructed by the US military will automatically be owned by the Philippines, there will be sharing and joint use of the facilities in the agreed locations including those built by the US troops, strong commitment by both parties in protecting the environment, human health and safety, prohibition of entry to the Philippines of nuclear weapons and reference to respective obligations of both parties under the chemical weapons convention and the biological weapons convention, the Philippines will be the supplier of goods, products and services in the US military procurement and last but definitely not the list the regular consultation on the implementation of the agreement.

In an interview, Ambassador Lourdes Yparaguirre who is also a member of the Philippines negotiating panel said EDCA will be effective for 10 years but "it can be prolonged depending on the agreement through the regular consultation between both parties to review the implementation of the agreement."

Yparaguirre said, however, there is no specific time yet on when the Implementating Rules and Regulation will be signed so that the agreement will finally take effect.

The EDCA will be presented to US President Barrack Obama who arrived in the Philippines on April 28 for a two-day state visit.

'Higher plane'

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) immediately lauded the signing of the Philippines–US EDCA Monday, saying this brings the bilateral alliance of the two countries to a "higher plane."

In a statement, Foreign Affair Secretary Albert Del Rosario said the country is already looking forward to the implementation of the said treaty since it would help open "fresh avenues of bilateral cooperation."

"The EDCA elevates to a higher plane of engagement our already robust defense alliance, a cornerstone of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region," said del Rosario.

"With the EDCA, the Philippines and the United States as sovereign allies have written a new chapter for our modern and mature partnership, firmly grounded on deeply-held democratic values, common interests and shared aspirations," he further said.

The DFA chief said having the EDCA is important considering the increased tension in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) involving the country and China.

Del Rosario added that the EDCA will also assure that the two countries will closely cooperate in terms of providing assistance in times of calamities.

"Given the rapidly evolving regional architecture and domestic realities, our dynamic and forward-looking partnership attaches great importance in enhancing our individual and collective self-defense capabilities, strengthening maritime security and maritime domain awareness, and improving humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capacities," he said.

"These are valuable components of a responsible and responsive security engagement that will benefit both our countries and peoples, and contribute to regional and international security and stability," added del Rosario.

Militants hit EDCA

Militant groups slammed on Monday the governments of the Philippines and the US for allegedly rushing a deal to deploy more American troops to the country and allow them to access military bases.

In a statement, the National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL) said the EDCA has nothing to offer to the Filipinos but "indignity and ignominy."

"The Philippine government is drooling over Rambo idols and high-tech weaponry and materiel that will make our land, air and seas playgrounds and catapults for wars of aggression, intervention and plunder under the guise of unreliable offers of protection against a fellow, yet relatively puny, bully," the group said.

The 10-year EDCA signals the Philippines' re-occupation by the US, according to Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), since the deal allegedly does not set any geographical limit as to where the US can establish bases in local camps and limit as to how many US troops can be deployed into the country at any given time.

KMU also belied claims that the presence of more US troops and military hardware is crucial to the Philippines' assertion of its territorial claims against China over the West Philippine Sea, saying the deal is just part of the US' "pivot to Asia" geopolitical strategy aimed at trying to contain China which has emerged as a major threat to the US’ economic and military might.

"The threat that Beijing poses for our national security is real and significant, yet it does not necessarily mean that we should allow US military forces unprecedented entry to our military bases and facilities. Claiming to defend national sovereignty from one bully by surrendering it to another bully is simply illogical," said Kabataan party-list Representative Terry Ridon as he described the EDCA as a welcome gift to US President Barack Obama, who will conclude his four-nation Asian tour in the Philippines.

The US and Philippine governments have insisted that the EDCA will not bring back US military bases into the Philippines, which is only possible under a treaty ratified by the Senate.

Eight years after banning US military bases, however, the government inked the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in 1999, which has been used as basis for having hundreds of American soldiers as trainers in counterterrorism exercises. (With Virgil Lopez/HDT/Sunnex)

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