PHL military bases to host US troops, facilities

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Friday, May 2, 2014


THE Department of National Defense (DND) is eyeing to open three to five military camps for the use of United States forces under the recently signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), official said Friday.

Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, chairman of the Philippine panel that negotiated the agreement with the US, said the military camps include Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, home of the Army's 7th Infantry Division and Special Operations Command.

In a press conference in Camp Aguinaldo, Batino said the panel has started preliminary discussions with the Americans as to the areas where the US forces will be putting up facilities for pre-positioning of assets.

"Right now, the discussions would be ranging from three to five AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) bases. That's not the final but that is the starting discussion point... These AFP bases will be the locations for prepositioning activities and construction activities. It will not be the whole universe of the AFP bases," he said.

Under the 10-year agreement, the facilities that would be put up by the US would be owned by the Philippines when the Americans no longer need it for their increased rotational presence in the country.

Batino said the number of bases being eyed is already "sufficient to implement the objectives of EDCA, which was signed by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador Philip Goldberg last Monday, hours before the arrival of US President Barack Obama for a two-day visit in Manila.

"The direction of the DND and AFP when identifying the agreed locations would be to limit and delineate only a limited portion or a limited area of the agreed AFP base which would be shared to the US," said Batino.

"It will not be the whole AFP base identified, it will not be the AFP base as a whole because we need that AFP base. But we will study which areas could be allocated for the implementation of EDCA and would be shared to the US forces," he added.

The locations that would be opened for the use of the US troops will be listed in an annex. Batino said there is no timetable when to finish the annex but it will be a priority of the DND.

Batino said Fort Magsaysay is being considered due to its ideal location.
"We often hold Balikatan exercises there," he said.

Balikatan is a huge-scale and annual exercise between US and Filipino forces, aimed at improving the interoperability of the sides in responding to traditional and non-traditional threats. This year's exercise will commence on Monday.

"Of course, that's for recommendation only and subject to the approval of our principal," added Batino. Under EDCA, these installations will be available to the Americans without any rental given the mutuality of benefits.

Batino was silent when asked if the former American bases in Subic Freeport in Zambales and Clark airfield in Pampanga will also opened to the US forces under the agreement.

Batino said the Subic Freeport is a civilian facility. However, he said, the defense and military establishment is coordinating with proper authorities so portions of Subic can be turned over to the AFP for its use.

Batino said the two Hamilton-class cutters acquired from US over the past several years and fighter jets that are due to be acquired under the AFP modernization program "need not only suitable but a strategic home."

Asked on whether the DND and AFP are striving to secure part of Subic so the American can use it, Batino said: "No. This is for the AFP."

Meanwhile, Batino said the annex that they are crafting will not set the number of US forces that will be rotating in the country.

"These are operational details that differ every year, depending on activities that are approved by the AFP and the (US) Pacific Command, through the Mutual Defense Board and the Security Engagement Board," he said.

"We cannot (give a) definite number of the US troops coming in and out of the country... That will depend on the on the activities that will be implemented. Every year, we discuss what type of Balikatan (exercises) we are pursuing, how big it is, so it will vary every year," he said. (VR/Sunnex)

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