Benefits of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) to the Philippine Military

The ironclad alliance between the Philippines and the United States is something that is seen strong through the years, even with the changes of administration as the last one was being antagonistic to the alliance even though this was not mean outright cancellation of well-established treaties and agreements forged years, if not decades prior.

Now, one agreement is seeing an expansion as both countries are about to add more places in the country that may get part of this existing bases arrangement between the Philippines and the United States, with the possibility of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) being the beneficiary of the goodies that an ally provides in exchange to this deal.

EDCA, Philippine Air Force, F-16, Multirole Fighter Jet, Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement
A United States Air Force F-16 Multirole Fighter Jet took off from the runway of Basa Air Base in Pampanga. (c) Defense Visual Information Distribution Service.

The United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has recently visited the Philippines after his visit in South Korea, as he has the aim to fast-track the implementation of adding more areas in the country as part of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA, an agreement forged by both the Philippines and the United States in 2014.

This comes as China's hegemony is challenging the international rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region as the communist country really desires to secure and invade Taiwan that is considered by the Chinese Communist Party as a renegade province that needs reunification under the red banner, and the Philippines really plays a significant role for deterrence as the country's geography defined a chain of features known as the first island chain that stretches northward to Japan.

While being in the country, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin expects to meet with the country's key government officials, especially with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Secretary of National Defense Carlito Galvez Jr., and Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines General Andres Centino, as they are all aiming to bolster the existing alliances that both countries have for each other, now with the Philippines giving its share to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty by allowing more EDCA sites to open and cater troops not only with the United States, but possibly with other countries such as Japan.

The locations for these additional EDCA military sites come not as a surprise, given that these are strategically near the areas of concern that both the Philippine and United States security forces see as critical areas on a potential clash and conflict with China, with these areas being in the northernmost part of Luzon facing the island of Taiwan and the Bashi Channel that separates the two countries, and the other being in Palawan, near the highly contested Kalayaan Island Group known internationally as the Spratly Island Group.

As the trend of letting more troops from the United States military deployed to the key EDCA sites gets increased as more areas for access are getting added, one cannot dismiss the goods and benefits that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will get from this development, not to mention any potential offer of military hardware under Excess Defense Articles that may bring boost to the AFP's overall capabilities, especially that the Horizon 3 of the Revised AFP Modernization Program is still currently rolling.

MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile, Balikatan 2022, Philippine Army, United States Army, 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty
A Patriot Missile Mobile Launcher equipped with PAC-3 Canisters disembarked from the Landing Craft Air Cushion as part of the amphibious activities involving air defense system assets as part of the US-Philippine Joint Exercise Balikatan 2022(c) Defense Visual Information Distribution Service.

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA, as what we see here, is just the continuation of enhanced military cooperation between the Philippine government with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and their counterparts in the United States government and their military, as traced back in the 1950s specifically when the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty has signed between both parties.

The talks on what has become the formulation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement started on August 2013 (almost a decade from the time this article has published), when the officials of that time discussed the possibility of increasing the rotation of U.S. troops across what will be the first five military bases for the United States to gain access on, while tackling the matters related to maritime security and domain awareness.

From that time, we need to take note that just a year prior, the Philippines and China has embroiled in a standoff over the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which ended up being under de facto control of the Chinese Coast Guard and since then threatened Philippine fisherfolk from accessing the maritime area that was once considered their fishing ground and a way of livelihood although recent reports suggest of an increasing number of local fisherfolk returning to that area with the Philippine Coast Guard monitoring the area.

Before the addition of new EDCA sites under this deal, there are at least five existing and pre-determined sites of such arrangement in the country, namely the Basa Air Base in Pampanga, wherein most of the Philippine Air Force's Fighter jets are situated; Puerto Princesa's Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, whereby it is the one being the closest one to the Kalayaan Group of Islands; Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, the country’s largest military camp and a frequent location of Philippine-US military exercises, the Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City.

Take note that this basing arrangement differs from the ones during the Cold War era, as the current Philippine Constitution prohibits the United States from setting up any new bases of their own in the country, resulting to the formulation of this agreement that may allow troops from the United States Armed Forces to access key Philippine military facilities through the full implementation of EDCA.

This agreement has signed on April 28, 2014 by U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg and then-Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin under the Aquino administration, whereby it does not require any legislative approval in the Senate of both countries as this is more of an executive agreement as agreed on both sides and less of a formal treaty like the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty that requires this kind of approval.

The recent statement related to the addition of four (4) more sites is just a follow-up as both sides willing to fast-track the agreement up to its full implementation, with the United States military gaining more access to areas that are strategically near to either the West Philippine Sea to the West or Taiwan to the North, while presenting the deals they presented for the Philippine military to benefit, ranging from building additional facilities to providing military help through Excess Defense Articles or EDAs.

C-130T, Philippine Air Force, Cargo Aircraft
One of the Philippine Air Force's many C-130s, with this one formerly served the United States Marine Corps.
Image Source.

Aside from the primary highlight of both countries being more than willing to fast-track the full implementation of Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA, it is also worth noting that the United States will help strengthen the Philippine military and boost interoperability between both countries that form an alliance, possibly augmenting the projects slated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines for the Horizon 3 of its Modernization Program.

This is definitely the case regarding military capability that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) currently have, with the United States troops deployed to key EDCA sites addressing any shortcomings in the short term, while slowly providing the AFP the tools and resources it needs to modernize its array of military assets in the long run, at least as far as the current modernization phase is concerned, and as analysed by the people in the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Given the information provided, especially with the U.S. Defense Secretary saying to the President that helping the AFP modernize its capabilities is one area for bilateral cooperation between the Philippines and the United States, it will not be surprising if the announcements for U.S. military hardware slated for Excess Defense Articles for the Philippines may come up in the upcoming years, if not months from the time this article has written.

One possibility is for Lockheed Martin, with the backing of the United States government, to add more goodies (possibly additional EDA units and spares support) from their offer for the Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Project, which is still pending a final decision from the Philippine Air Force in choosing between the U.S. made F-16 Block 70/72 variant, competing against Swedish Aerospace company SAAB's JAS-39 Gripen Block C/D, with their recent iteration of the offer now includes an idea for a lease option that surely eases Philippine Air Force's financial burden shall it gets chosen.

Another possibility is for the Philippine Air Force's rehashed Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project, in which the Philippine government has looking for an alternative with the CH-47 Chinook Heavy-Lift Helicopters after 'scrapping' the deal with the Russian Sovtechnoexport over the Mi-171 Mil helicopters, with the chances for the terms may get further sweetened by having more units offered, depending on how negotiations go as it is within everyone's knowledge that the Chinooks at its unit price is more expensive than the Russian helicopters it replace in a deal.

Also, there is also a possibility that the Philippine Army or the Philippine Marine Corps receiving more armored vehicles in huge numbers like what it did in 2015, augmenting existing ones in its inventory such as the M-113 Armored Personnel Carrier, with several of the units armed by Elbit's UT-25 Remote-Controlled Weapons System (RCWS), or an offer for additional MRAP or Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, as it the Philippine Army aims to have those units under the Light Tactical Vehicle Acquisition Project.

Take note that the following possibilities above are hypothetical, although there are primary basis that render these offers plausible based on logic together with historical basis and information, as the final decision for Excess Defense Articles and other sweeteners lies to the discretion of how willing the United States transfer military hardware, factoring the budgetary requirements of the different acquisition projects pushed by the Philippine Armed Forces.

Subic Bay, United States Navy, Cold War, Philippines
The current iteration of U.S. deployment under EDCA is different from the Subic Bay-style established basing deployment arrangement during the Cold War.
Image obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Aside from the potential offerings that may get from this deal through the Excess Defense Articles at their discretion, another area of cooperation that can bring additional points for implementing the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement is through the rehabilitation and construction of existing and new facilities, respectively, as well as interoperability initiatives such as the revived joint naval patrols by both countries in the West Philippine Sea.

Apparently, the United States government has just allotted Php 3.7 Billion (or US$66.5 Million) for the materialization of getting EDCA facilities constructed in these three EDCA sites, namely the Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Ramon Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro, wherein these facilities may provide additional structural benefits for the Philippine troops in the long term, while U.S. troops use these facilities as part of the agreement enabling access to Philippine military bases.

Facilities mentioned here involve training and warehousing structures, as well as others that may involve proper accommodation for the troops deployed in the EDCA-designated Philippine military bases, and also the ones involving the shelter for key Philippine military assets, whether it may be an air asset from the Philippine Air Force, or an area that safe keep and maintaining the armored vehicles of the Philippine Army.

Another area of cooperation worth mentioning is the revival of the US-Philippine joint maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea, as it is clearly understandable that China’s trend for its hegemonic moves in the contested area rose significantly, as gray line tactics like the use of maritime militia deprive a typical ordinary Filipino fisherfolk to access traditional fishing grounds that are legally part of the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for them to benefit, under sovereign right to extract maritime resources.

The joint maritime patrols count as a win-win for both the Philippines and the United States, as both sides share mutual national interest in securing the West Philippine Sea, as the former focuses more on protecting its maritime domain and sovereign benefits of utilizing maritime resources in its EEZ for the economic development of its citizenry and the country, while the latter sees the area as a vital trade route that any disruptions in the area may also mean disruption to the global supply chain of essential commodities.

These things count as a welcoming sign for an increased cooperation between the United States and the Philippines being longtime allies, while it comes as no surprise that China overwhelmingly reacts to this issue, using its propaganda rhetoric that the United States government sought the disruption of order in the region, although there is a clear indicator of a ‌Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea gives the country a favor not only to strengthen a relationship with its allies but also the desire of modernizing its Armed Forces capabilities intended for external defense.

Philippine Coast Guard, U.S. Coast Guard, Joint Bilateral Maritime Patrols, West Philippine Sea.
Both the Philippine and U.S. Coast Guard ships jointly took part in a maritime exercise that took place in Zambales, facing the West Philippine Sea.
Image Source.

The joint reiteration by the Philippine and United States government to add four (4) more EDCA locations count as a significant development between two nations, as this will help not only in securing and defending parts of the country from Chinese aggression, but also providing support to Taiwan in an event of a Chinese invasion on an island nation that counts as a renegade island, in a posture that adds security in the first island chain.

While U.S. support for additional defense mechanism shows a guarantee as they deploy more troops and military hardware in the key EDCA locations, this does not mean that the Philippine Armed Forces may go complacent and relying too much on both the U.S. Security Umbrella and the benefits that may come from it like additional Excess Defense Articles providing military hardware to the Philippine military. 

Instead, the AFP Modernization Program needs to continue as it usually does, especially now that the R.A. 10349 comes at the third and final horizon phase of the whole program, providing enough financial requirements and political will for the Philippine government to provide its own fair share as territorial defense comes at the responsibility of the citizenry, with allied support on basing, troop support, military hardware, and interoperability training and exercises being just an extra addition to the broad scheme of things.

Fair enough, implementing the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA comes with a win-win benefit for both sides, specifically now that the Philippines can provide its contribution to the alliance since the Mutual Defense Treaty has signed in 1951, with joint training opportunities and providing support in Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief being key points as the country always suffer from natural calamities like Typhoons, monsoon rains, and even earthquakes.

Ending this up, the Philippines and the United States see the benefit in implementing this bilateral defense agreement that sought security and stability in the region, despite what the pro-China crowd cries that this development only brings chaos and that the Philippines may end up as a battlefield or a springboard for a China counterattack, although it is really clear that any potential conflict imposed by the mainland Chinese against Taiwan or the West Philippine Sea may still affect the Philippines ‌regardless of whether it is neutral or has support from likely minded allies like the United States.

(c) 2023 PDA.


Anonymous said...

So will the PAF finally get a squadron of MRF.

Marcus said...

If PAF chooses the F-16, they can have an extra squadron or two based on this possibility.

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