Surigao del Norte to conduct survey among residents if AFP, US military OK province for EDCA site

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 18) — Surigao del Norte Rep. Ace Barbers said the province will be asking its residents’ opinion on volunteering to be an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) site only after the military and government see the area as a viable option.

“When surveys are conducted and if the people say no, we should follow what the people decide on. But in the meantime, we’d like to ask [the military and government] to consider and study the viability of putting up an EDCA site in this area of Mindanao,” Barbers told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

“If they discover that it is a viable area for an EDCA, then maybe we can start consulting people and consider their opinion on the issue,” he added.

The congressman said they are merely “voicing out their opinion” so that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the government, and the US military see the “distinct advantages” of setting up an EDCA site in Surigao. 

Barbers said they have also considered that there may be residents who disagree and said they will look into the possible options

“We have to balance the sentiments and opinions of the people and see which opinion would deliver objectives of economic activity, creating an image of peace, stability and security, and deter the prevalence of illegal activities,” he said.

The lawmaker added that the idea of escalating tensions due to added EDCA sites in the country “is far from reality.”

Barbers added that the presence of an EDCA in Mindanao could enhance a more positive perception in the area, emphasizing that there is a stigma of violence around areas in the southern region of the country.

“There’s a little bit of stigma when you mention Mindanao to investors. They would always ask if it is safe, if it is peaceful. So now with the presence of an EDCA in the area, it would perhaps add to the present, peaceful, stable and secured area in Mindanao. This would enhance the perception,” he said.

A US military official earlier said Manila and Washington are looking into the possibility of creating new EDCA sites in the Philippines on top of the existing nine. 

Cagayan and Isabela governors previously expressed reservations over hosting EDCA sites, citing possible escalation of tensions.