PH eyes VFA with Japan, more EDCA sites for US

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 16) — The Philippine government will review proposals to boost defense cooperation with long-time allies United States and Japan.

This comes amid austerity measures in its military budget to finance the acquisition of much-needed assets.

After the US and Australia, the Philippines is now eyeing a visiting forces agreement (VFA) with Japan.

The 1987 Constitution bans foreign troops on Philippine soil unless covered by a treaty.

Officials have said Manila and Tokyo should hold joint exercises to address common security issues ranging from natural disasters to external threats.

"Japan and the Philippines would like to have a VFA in order for the Japanese troops to conduct exercises in the Philippines," Department of Defense officer-in-charge Jose Faustino Jr. said on Monday.

"Right now they cannot," he added. "They are just observers or we just have to conduct HADR (humanitarian assistance disaster response) exercises."

Meanwhile, the United States is also eyeing to set up more temporary facilities under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). Under the 2014 agreement, the US can build temporary structures for its troops and equipment storage.

The proposed additional locations are Zambales, Cagayan, Isabela, and Palawan — all facing China, Taiwan, and the Korean Peninsula.

The agreed locations to store equipment and supply are Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mactan, Cebu and Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro.

Defense officials are consulting the Department of Foreign Affairs regarding the proposals.

"We have to consider some constitutional provisions, some of our national laws before we could go into that," Faustino said.

The Philippines is also upgrading its military arsenal deemed as among the most modest in the region. It is set to deploy its first ground-based air defense system in key areas.

The Air Force is counting on its FA-50 jets as its first layer of defense against air intrusion.

"Ngayon, kung makalusot ‘yung ating threat sa ating mga fighter aircraft, nag-dog fight sila tapos nakalusot, eto ngayon ang sasagot, ang magne-neutralize sa threat na pumapasok para hindi nila masira ‘yung ating critical infrastructure," Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Connor Anthony Canlas said.

[Translation: If the threat escapes our fighter aircrafts, this will block it. It will neutralize the threat,so it cannot destroy our critical infrastructure.]

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. earlier said it is crucial for the country's military to continuously modernize.

However, given its limited fiscal space, Manila will have to rely on long-time allies to make up for what it cannot afford for now.