SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — As the United States (U.S.) military plans to expand the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (E.D.C.A.) with the Philippines, one of the locations being eyed by the U.S. is its former naval base in Subic Bay Freeport Zone.
The expansion was revealed by a senior U.S. defense official when the media asked about any update on the E.D.C.A. between Manila and Washington.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Bartolome Vicente Bacarro said that the U.S. is interested in building five (5) more facilities in the country under the agreement, these include — subject to vetting — two possible sites in Cagayan, one in Palawan, one in Zambales, and one in Isabela.
Located in Zambales province north of Manila, Subic Bay was home to what used to be the largest overseas naval facility of the U.S. Navy until 1992 after the Philippine Senate refused to renew the 1947 U.S.-Philippines Military Bases Agreement.
It then became the Philippines' premier special economic and freeport zone. It is currently one of the country's leading economic engines.
With this planning and possible development between the militaries of the U.S. and the Philippines, a new base could be rising soon in the freeport. However, all these are subject to agreement between the governments of the two countries.
Some see the agreement as a response to China’s aggressive expansion in the South China Sea, however the U.S. official clarified that the agreement covers more than just the maritime row.
“I think they are very much related to our commitment to standing beside the Philippines as a treaty ally so I would say that (it) is broader than the South China Sea. But it is ensuring that we are able to support the Philippines, work alongside the Philippines in responding to a range of challenges including... any kind of disaster or other problems in the Philippines that we would want to offer support for,” the official said.
The spokesperson of the Department of National Defense (D.N.D.), Arsenio Andolong, in a statement, said that the D.N.D. is committed to accelerate the E.D.C.A. by concluding infrastructure enhancement and repair projects, and developing new infrastructure projects at existing E.D.C.A. locations.
This also includes exploring new locations that will build a more credible mutual defense posture.
D.N.D. officer-in-charge Undersecretary Jose Faustino Jr. said these E.D.C.A. sites are only “training facilities and warehouses.”
“We already have five E.D.C.A. agreed locations and there are ongoing projects now and for the next two years, the concentration will be on the completion of the projects within E.D.C.A. during the M.D.B.-S.E.B. (Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board) held in Hawaii. There were some additional E.D.C.A. sites being considered,” he added.
Mr. Faustino said these still have to go through the process, which includes making sure they adhere to constitutional provisions.
Mr. Andolong added that the D.N.D. remains consistent in its position that all engagements with the U.S. as well as other foreign partners must be conducted in accordance with the Constitution and other national laws.