More EDCA sites eyed, according to PH, US military leaders

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 14) – Manila and Washington are looking into the possibility of creating new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites in the Philippines on top of nine already in the country, a US military official said Thursday.

“Gen. [Romeo] Brawner and I may make recommendations to our senior leaders for the consideration of additional sites but there’s still work to do there before we get to our answer,” U.S. Admiral John Aquilino said in a press conference with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief.

“To other sites, I’m gonna leave that to my partner," Aquilino added. "We are in discussions, but everyone has a boss and we both have bosses. So we’ll have those conversations I think in private and give our bosses some decision space on how they’d like to go forward.”

Presently, there are nine EDCA sites in the Philippines where US troops can be stationed indefinitely on a rotational basis.

Four were established early this year: Naval Base Camilo Osias in Santa Ana town, Cagayan; the Lal-lo Airport in Lal-lo town, Cagayan; Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu town, Isabela; and Balabac Island in Palawan.

READ: Palace unveils 4 new EDCA sites

The five existing ones are the Cesar Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro, Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu, and the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan.

Aquilino also said the US is looking into investing more funds into the sites’ development for joint use.

“We’ve gone from 32 [projects], we’ve added 63 others and the United States has identified investments of almost $110 million to those sites to build capability, capacity for the AFP to use every day and for the United States to fall in on when invited,” Aquilino said.

Meanwhile, Brawner said the Philippine government is likewise pouring money into the EDCA sites.

The AFP chief, however, clarified that joint operations with the US and the possible creation of new sites had “nothing to do with the other countries in the Indo-Pacific region.”

This is despite China’s continued incursions and harassment of Filipino civilian and government vessels in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Before the press conference of the two military leaders, the AFP on Thursday morning revealed a “concerning resurgence” in the West Philippine Sea where a swarm of 30 Chinese fishing vessels was spotted.

READ: ‘Concerning resurgence’: AFP reports more Chinese fishing vessels swarming West PH Sea

The establishment of four new EDCA sites earlier this year enraged Beijing. It accused Washington of endangering peace in the Indo-Pacific region and said the western superpower would use the EDCA sites to interfere with China’s operations in the Taiwan strait.