Daily Tribune (Philippines)

What you see, what you get


Trust President Rodrigo Duterte to tell the nation the truth about the United States keeping arms depots in the Philippine­s and turning military camps into American bases, since he was referring to the committed facilities under the Enhanced Defense Cooperatio­n Agreement (EDCA) signed during the term of former President Noynoy Aquino.

Mr. Duterte is entirely the opposite of the completely opaque Aquino.

Mr. Duterte had sounded off the Americans, who are at the negotiatin­g table with their Filipino counterpar­ts, about the need for compensati­on to retain the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). The President had threatened to revoke the agreement over a spat on the continued interferen­ce of some American officials on the President’s policies, which came to a head after the cancelatio­n of Senator Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa’s visa.

“Do you know that there are so many depots that there (are) many arms stationed in the Philippine­s by America?” Mr. Duterte said in his weekly televised address.

“And do you know that they are slowly converting Subic into an American base?” the President said, referring to the former US naval base in Subic Bay that Washington left in 1992 after senators in a historic vote repealed the 1947 Military Bases Agreement, which was the basis for the hosting of several foreign military facilities, mainly Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base.

Vice President Leni Robredo and Sen. Panfilo Lacson slammed as “extortion” Duterte’s demand in which both chorused in synchronic­ity as if both were pulled by a string.

In a tweet that he has since deleted, Lacson, who heads the Senate Committee on National Defense, had said that “one cannot put a price tag on the value of the VFA,” and that the Philippine­s was “not a nation of extortioni­sts.”

The trouble with the several military agreements that the country has, mainly EDCA, is their many hidden provisions.

EDCA is considered a treaty by the Philippine­s but is considered by the US government as a mere executive agreement.

Prior to the 2016 polls, the United States through then Defense Secretary Ash Carter revealed that for some time, joint sea patrols of Philippine­s and American ships were conducted in the South China Sea right after the SC affirmed the legality of EDCA.

Carter then also bared that American forces have already been deployed in local military camps that the administra­tion of the US lapdog Aquino never announced.

Some 200 airmen in a contingent of 300 were part of a quick reaction unit that could suit up with American aircraft for battle.

Troops and ground attack aircraft remain in the country “temporaril­y” through the EDCA provisions.

The 200 airmen, Carter then referred to, were stationed at Clark Air Base, which used to host 20,000 personnel prior to the base’s closure in 1991, after it suffered catastroph­ic damage from Mount Pinatubo’s eruption.

They will deploy from various bases in the Pacific to support five A-10C Thunderbol­t II attack aircraft from the 51st Fighter Wing at Osan Air Base, in South Korea; three HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter­s from the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan; and a MC-130H Combat Talon II special operations aircraft.

Among the camps where the Americans have depots, apparently as a result of EDCA, are Antonio Bautista Air Base, located near Puerto Princesa City, which is strategica­lly very close to the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea; Basa Air Base, which was originally constructe­d by the US Army Air Corps before the Second World War; Fort Magsaysay, which is the largest military installati­on in the Philippine­s, and is one of the primary training areas of the Philippine Army; Lumbia Air Base in Mindanao, which is connected to a civilian airport; and the Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base on Mactan Island, which was originally built by the US Air Force.

The Constituti­on bars the presence of foreign military bases, troops, or facilitate­s on Philippine soil, but EDCA went around the provision by allowing the storing of equipment and the rotational presence of foreign troops in local camps.

Mr. Duterte, while continuous­ly railing against the setup with the Americans, will have to honor agreements entered into by the previous regime.

It remains that there is a crying need for the review or even abrogation of the lopsided agreements with the United States.

EDCA went around the provision by allowing the storing of equipment and the rotational presence of foreign troops in local camps.

“The trouble with the several military agreements that the country has, mainly EDCA, are their many hidden provisions.

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