The Philippines has agreed to give the US military further access to more local bases across the country. The move was announced by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr on Thursday, February 2, along with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who is on a visit to the country.
As per the agreement reached by the two countries, the US will gain access to four new bases under the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). This military access will be facilitated by the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and will be on top of the already existing EDCA facilities that the US has access to.
The EDCA, put in place during Barack Obama’s administration, is the most prominent military agreement signed between the US and the Philippines since the complete withdrawal of US troops in 1992. The agreement gives the US access to strategic military sites in the Philippines, allowing extended stays for US troops, and the building and operation of facilities on Philippine bases.
A joint statement by the Philippines and the US states “their plans to accelerate the full implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the agreement to designate four new Agreed Locations in strategic areas of the country and the substantial completion of the projects in the existing five Agreed Locations.”
While the areas identified for new bases are yet to be disclosed, reports suggest that they will include areas close to Taiwan and Palawan Island, near the South China Sea. Recently, US Vice-President Kamala Harris’ visit to the Philippines in November 2022 included a visit to a naval ship in Palawan, which led to a strong response from China.
The expansion of EDCA sites has been in the works for months under the Marcos administration. Even before the announcement of the deal, progressive movements had been protesting Austin’s visit to the Philippines.
Rights group Karapatan had earlier said that nothing good could come from his visit, and even described Austin as “a man whose career and fortune were built on the deaths and destruction resulting from US-driven wars of aggression.”
“Aside from being one of the top military commanders who led the US’s bloody wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan that claimed almost a million lives, most of them civilians, he is the face of the money side of US warmongering, the side that ravenously feeds off the suffering of the victims of these evil wars,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.
After the announcement, the joint decision was widely decried by peace advocates, who see it as part of a months-long effort by the US to expand its military presence across the Indo-Pacific, with an intent to encircle China.
The Philippines is also expected to see a boost in US military aid, with the US having recently allocated a potential USD 100 million in defense financing for the country. This is on top of the 82 million allocated for upgrading the five existing EDCA bases.
“At least USD 100 million in military assistance is already in the pipeline in exchange for the Marcos Jr regime’s reaffirmation of EDCA and other military agreements with the US,” Palabay had predicted in a statement released shortly after Austin’s arrival.
“With Austin’s background, we can expect more murder and mayhem against the Filipino people as the US intensifies its intervention in the conduct of the counter-insurgency war in the country,” she added.
The announcement was met with protests outside the presidential palace, organized by left-wing and progressive groups.
Austin has claimed that the new bases are not permanent basing projects in the Philippines. But activists fear that increasing US military access to the country will pave the way for a return to a time when the US had an extensive military presence in the country, as it did before 1992. The withdrawal of the bases, largely facilitated under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos (father of the incumbent president), was a large part of the democratization efforts in the Philippines.
“The matter of asserting Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights rests with the Filipinos, not any foreign power,” said Renato Reyes, leader of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, or Bayan. “It would be foolish to believe that the US, with its own geopolitical interests, is here to help us in asserting our sovereignty.”
In their statement, Bayan also warned that the expansion of EDCA sites might trigger more tension in the region. “Filipinos must not allow our country to be used as a staging ground for any US military intervention in the region.”
“The US is engaged in provocations with China using the issue of Taiwan. Allowing US use of our facilities will drag us into this conflict which is not aligned with our national interests,” the group said.