By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz
and John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter
THE US can’t invoke its Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the Philippines to defend Taiwan from China, according to Manila’s top envoy.
“If the United States tries to invoke the EDCA, it would be inconsistent,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique A. Manalo told the Senate committee on foreign affairs on Wednesday. “I don’t think they could use the EDCA because it’s quite clear what purpose EDCA activities are for.”
He issued the remark after Senator Maria Imelda “Imee” R. Marcos, who heads the committee, asked if the US could use EDCA sites to go up against China if it invades Taiwan.
Mr. Manalo said the US could invoke its Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines, but this would still be subject to congressional review.
“If the US were to ask us, we could not immediately take a decision unless we go through the constitutional processes,” he said. “That would mean at least going through the legislative bodies.”
He said the EDCA is “not aimed at any third country” and is “meant for the use of the Philippines and of course in connection with our treaty with the United States.”
National Security Council spokesman Jonathan E. Malaya last week said the Philippines adheres to the One China Policy, which recognizes Taiwan as part of China and “subscribes to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations principle of noninterference in approaching regional issues.”
EDCA was built on the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and the 1999 visiting forces agreement between the Philippines and US.
The main principle of the Mutual Defense Treaty is “to have collective defense,” Defense Secretary Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. told the same hearing.
“The Philippines fully subscribes to the principle of noninterference in the affairs of states and respect for sovereignty and that’s also enshrined in the UN charter which we fully subscribe to,” Mr. Manalo told senators.
Citing then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August last year, Mr. Manalo said: “When tensions rose between the United States and China over Taiwan last August, our position has always been to urge the parties concerned to maintain a level of communication to avoid escalating tensions. I think that’s as far as we can really go.”
Ms. Marcos said putting up a credible self-defense posture is “very difficult” and far-fetched for the Philippines.
She cited the need to modernize the Philippine Armed Forces, which remains “underarmed and completely abject in the face of any external threats.”
Mr. Galvez said his agency is set to present to the president a plan to buy radar systems, multi-role fighters, missile systems and offshore vessels under the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization program.
President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. last month ruled out the use of Philippine military bases, access to which by American troops under a 2014 military pact has been widened, to launch offensives.
“We will not let our bases be used for whatever offensive actions,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a commemoration event for Filipino heroes of World War II.
The president said sites under the Philippines’ 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US are aimed to help the Philippines.
In February, Mr. Marcos gave the US access to four more military bases under EDCA on top of the five existing sites.
China has criticized the EDCA expansion, accusing the US of endangering “regional peace and stability.”
Three of the four new EDCA sites are in northern Philippines — Naval Base Camilo Osias in Sta Ana, Cagayan; Lal-lo Airport, also in Cagayan; and Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela.
Cagayan is about 1,000 kilometers away from self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory.
Ms. Marcos, the president’s sister, questioned the locations of the EDCA sites.
Mr. Galvez said the instruction from Mr. Marcos was to prepare for external defense, citing that the northern part of the country as the most vulnerable.
He added that the locations of the EDCA sites were based on their “multi-use capability.”
“We still have majority of our units in Mindanao,” Armed Forces of Chief of Staff General Andres C. Centino told Wednesday’s hearing. “We are in fact deploying our marines from the south to the northern part of the Philippines.”
Also on Wednesday, Mr. Marcos said the Chinese ambassador’s remarks on overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in Taiwan might have been misinterpreted since English is not his first language.
“I interpret it as him trying to say that you should not — the Philippines should not — provoke or intensify the tensions because it will impact badly on Filipinos,” he told a livestreamed news briefing.
“That’s how I take it, but I will be talking to the ambassador soon and I am sure he will be very anxious to give his own interpretation of what he was trying to say.”
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian last week asked Manila to oppose Taiwan’s independence if the country “cares genuinely” about the more than 150,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) living there.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) on Monday said the statement showed “brazen threats [that] are unacceptable to the civilized world.”
“The MOFA maintains close communication and engages in frequent exchanges of opinions on regional developments with foreign representative offices in Taiwan,” it said in a statement. “When appropriate, MOFA also provides necessary assistance to countries to protect their citizens.”
Mr. Marcos on Tuesday asked the Department of Foreign Affairs to ensure the safety and welfare of OFWs in Taiwan.
Last week, Mr. Huang said the United States seeks to take advantage of the new military bases under the EDCA to interfere with the Taiwan situation “to serve its geopolitical goals and advance its anti-China agenda at the expense of peace and development of the Philippines and the region at large.”