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Pursuing a strong and secure Indo-Pacific region


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The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between our country and the United States, signed in 2014, allows US military personnel to train with local troops as well as build and operate facilities inside military bases. It is a complement to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries.

EDCA also allows the US to pre-position supplies and equipment in the Philippines. It is intended to promote interoperability, capacity building towards modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), strengthening of the AFP for external defense, maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

There are five original EDCA sites: Cesar Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija, Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, and the Mactan Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.

Earlier this month, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. announced that there would be four additional EDCA locations: the Camilo Osias Naval Base in Sta Ana, Cagayan; Lal-lo Airport in Lal-lo, Cagayan; Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela; and Balabac Island in Palawan.

The President has stated that the move would strengthen the defense of our country and the defense of our republic. He said that aside from strengthening the country’s defense posture, the additional EDCA sites would defend the country’s eastern coast – the government, he said, must also protect the waters off the country’s eastern seaboard, particularly the Benham Rise.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III said the new sites would help our two countries work together even more closely to meet the challenges we share.

For our part, various officials have articulated their support for this move. Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr. recently stated that the four additional EDCA sites would greatly boost the Philippines’ defensive capabilities and allow the country to protect its national interests, as well as contribute to collective defense in the region. The AFP’s “strengthened presence” in the new locations, he said, especially along the country’’s eastern and western seaboards, would enable Filipino troops to respond quickly to distress calls.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the EDCA would jumpstart the construction of facilities and the upgrading of existing infrastructure that would directly contribute to communities and to the enhancement of the capabilities of the AFP. The Philippine Ambassador to the US, Jose Manuel Romualdez, sees the additional EDCA sites as a major boost to the country’s push to enhance defense capabilities.

At least four senators – Francis Tolentino, Francis Escudero, Christopher Lawrence Go, and Jinggoy Estrada – have also voiced their strong support.


We at Stratbase support the expansion of EDCA sites as a necessary and strategic prerogative that responds to the sustained aggression of Beijing now threatening the stability of the Indo-Pacific region.

Recent aggressive maneuvers by Beijing have made such an act critical. The diplomatic protests that we have filed have been simply brushed aside and were met with more deception, if not blatant lies. Meanwhile, China’s gray zone operations continue, bringing to the edge an already tense and risky geopolitical scenario.

We believe that beyond the fortification of our defense capabilities, the designation of the new EDCA sites, showing closer cooperation between the Philippines and the US, sends a message to other like-minded countries that they too could explore with us avenues of cooperation, particularly in terms of ensuring maritime security. Japan and Australia are among these like-minded states.

A survey conducted by Pulse Asia, commissioned by Stratbase, showed that eight out of 10 of Filipinos (80%) believe that the Marcos administration must strengthen our military capability to effectively address the issues in the West Philippine Sea, conduct joint maritime patrols and military exercises with allied countries, and fully implement the Visiting Forces Agreement and the EDCA.

This same survey showed that it is still the US that enjoys the trust of most Filipinos – 84% – as we defend our sovereignty. It is followed by Japan and Australia with 52% and 25%, respectively.

On numerous occasions, President Marcos, Jr. has repeatedly said that the foreign policy of his administration would be driven by national interest alone. This is a welcome, reassuring change from the stance taken by his immediate predecessor, former President Rodrigo Duterte, who unabashedly pivoted toward China in the guise of an “independent foreign policy” and promises of investments that did not really materialize. What we got instead were more incursions that violated our territorial rights, daily harassment of our fishermen, and depleted marine resources in our Exclusive Economic Zone.

Our national interest also dictates that the Philippines participate more fully and meaningfully in efforts to establish and maintain the international rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific. Without a doubt, the identification of these new EDCA sites is a step in that direction. We are, after all, a country that upholds international law and the rights of individual states. In doing so, we are also not backing down from asserting our own rights and bringing any violations and transgressions to the attention of the greater international community.

We have sought to respond to Beijing in so many ways. We have resorted to different actions including filing diplomatic protests, bringing violations and gray zone operations to the attention of the public, even seeking redress – and winning our case – before the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Our previous leader tried a policy of appeasement that China has exploited to strengthen their military foothold in the South China Sea.

We hope the designation of additional EDCA sites sends a clear, unequivocal, unmistakable message to Beijing that the Philippines will stand up to its sovereign rights and will protect national interests – and has the commitment its US ally. These developments will hopefully not escalate tensions but inspire renewed dialogue and work towards peaceful solutions in the context of a rules based international order that will ensure the sustaining benefits of a free and secure global maritime commons in the Indo-Pacific.

Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the president of the Stratbase ADR Institute.

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