DFA chief: Extent of US access to new EDCA sites still up for discussion

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 11) — The extent of the United States’ use of new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites in the country will still have to be discussed, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said when asked if the Philippines will allow the US to store its military assets for the defense of Taiwan.

Speaking at a forum in Washington on Tuesday, Manalo said the two countries have yet to finalize specifics on American troops’ access to the four new EDCA sites, which could temporarily host US military logistics and personnel on a rotational basis.

“I think these all have to be agreed on,” he said.

“So, at this stage it’s really very difficult to respond to questions like that. It will all depend on how discussions go on the type of activities and the terms of reference of those activities within any of those sites,” he added.

The government announced last week the locations of the four additional EDCA sites, two of which will be in Cagayan, one in Isabela, and one in Palawan.

These are on top of the five existing sites in Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, and Palawan.

Defense analysts regard the expanded EDCA as part of efforts to deter China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea, as well as against the self-governing Taiwan which China claims as its territory.

The Marcos administration, for its part, said strengthening US military presence in the country is primarily meant to boost the Philippines’ defense capabilities, relief operations, and disaster response.

READ: Marcos: PH won’t allow use of EDCA sites for offensive operations

“One of the key benefits, for example, in the new sites is the ability to work together to respond to humanitarian or natural disasters,” Manalo said.

“And if there are any activities there, they also provide benefits to the local communities,” he added. “The purpose of many of these locations should really be viewed in that context and those are where the real benefits would arise.”

Over the weekend, China launched military drills around Taiwan after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen returned from her visit to the US where she met US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Beijing has repeatedly warned against the meeting between the two officials. It said the military drills are "a serious warning against the Taiwan separatist forces' collusion with external forces, and a necessary move to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Manalo raised concerns over these developments and urged China and the US to manage tensions through dialogue.

“Taiwan is literally next door to the Philippines,” the DFA chief said, noting there are around 150,000 to 200,000 Filipinos in the island.

“Just looking at that, any kind of escalation of tensions or, even worse, some kind of a conflict, military conflict, would have really adverse repercussions on the Philippines. Of course, it would probably have repercussions on the entire region, but particularly the Philippines, given our proximity,” Manalo warned.