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Manila reviewing US proposal on military agreement

PHILIPPINE STAR/ KRIZJOHN ROSALES

THE PHILIPPINES is reviewing proposals from the US on an enhanced military pact that allows it to temporarily maintain a military presence in the Southeast Asian nation, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. said on Thursday.

“There have been many requests and proposals from the Americans especially under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA),” he told reporters. “All of that is under study now to see what is really feasible and what will be the most useful for the defense of Philippine territory.”

The military deal, signed in 2014, lets the US military rotate ships and aircraft for humanitarian and maritime security operations at mutually agreed Philippine military bases.

The agreement builds on a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and 1999 visiting forces agreement between the two countries.

The US wants to add more EDCA sites amid the escalating tension in the Taiwan Strait and in the South China Sea.

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Bartolome Vicente O. Bacarro earlier said two EDCA sites would rise in Cagayan province and one each in Isabela, Zambales and Palawan.

“By early next year, we will have something more concrete to tell you,” Mr. Marcos said.

US Vice-President Kamala Harris last month visited the Philippine island of Palawan in the South China Sea as part of a three-day trip to an Asian ally that is central to America’s bid to counter China’s increasingly assertive stance in the region.

China claims more than 80% of the South China Sea, which is believed to contain massive oil and gas deposits and through which billions of dollars in trade passes each year.

Ms. Harris said the US would defend the Philippines if it came under attack in the waterway, reaffirming Washington’s unwavering commitment to its former colony.

Her comments followed a meeting with Mr. Marcos, who welcomed her for the first time at the Philippine presidential palace in Manila.

Mr. Marcos said the two nations’ strong ties had become even more important, given what he called upheavals in the region.

He said her visit to the Philippines is a “very strong symbol” that the relationship of the Philippines with its former colonizer “remains strong.”

Mr. Marcos also said Philippine relations with the United States had gone through different phases and has been strengthened in every way.

The Philippines signed the EDCA with the US, the country’s key western ally, under the late President Benigno S.C. Aquino III.

His successor Rodrigo R. Duterte had threatened to scrap a visiting forces agreement with the US after the US Embassy canceled the visa of his ally Senator Ronald M. de la Rosa, his former police chief who led his deadly war on drugs.

Ms. Harris’ visit to the Philippines, the highest-level trip to the Philippines by a Biden administration official, is seen as part of Washington’s effort to revive ties with Manila, which moved closer to China under Mr. Duterte.

The US has allotted more than $82 million toward EDCA implementation at five existing locations in the Philippines, the White House said last month.

New EDCA locations have also been identified to enable the US and Philippines to continue to work together to meet the objectives of the military pact. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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