'EDCA benefits PH more than US'

MANILA, Philippines – In the eyes of the Philippine panel that negotiated the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States (US), Manila stands to gain more than Washington from the deal.

"We think that this agreement is mutually beneficial, okay. And it may benefit the US to a certain extent, but certainly it benefits the Philippines and, in our view, even more," Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya told reporters at a briefing in Malacañang on Thursday, May 8.

The EDCA gives US troops wider access to Philippine bases and allows joint activities between the two countries' militaries – the prepositioning of US equipment within Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) locations, the construction of related facilities to accommodate such prepositioning, as well as other enhanced defense cooperation activities.

It will require future negotiations – such as which army bases the US military may use – but Malaya said, "first and foremost to us is the protections and promotion of our Philippine national interest."

"We would want to emphasize though that under EDCA it is very clear that, for any prepositioning and construction activity to happen, the consent of the Philippine government is necessary," said National Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, who was also at the press briefing.

For locations of bases for example, Malaya said it would be the Philippines that would choose which bases could be occupied by American troops.

"All of these agreed locations would be within AFP bases and we are the host and they are the guests. So we would be the one to designate the places where they would be [allowed]," he said.

Additionally, Batino emphasized that the priority of the AFP is its modernization program, and that EDCA would address the country's lack of defense equipment. (READ: PH-US security relations: Deepening the alliance)

He said that any facilities built by the US with American money in locations designated by the Philippines with the consent of Washington, will be the Philippines' property. There is no exclusivity in the use of any infrastructure either.

"Under EDCA, there is an expressed provision stating that from the time the new facilities introduced by the US – of course, with the consent of the AFP using US money – from Day One, this would already be Philippine government property," Batino said. He added that bases development and support would be very helpful in the AFP modernization program.

The US is also expected to enhance Philippine capabilities and equipment "to address our concerns in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief."

Under the agreement, Batino said the US would not be allowed to dismantle or bring home any facilities when the agreement ends.

Environmental protection

The EDCA was signed by both countries just hours before US President Barack Obama's two-day state visit to the Philippines, his first. As expected, the defense agreement became the focus of the trip, with discussions centering on security and defense.

Aside from equipment and choosing locations, the country's environmental interests will also be protected and promoted under EDCA – a feature unique to the agreement.

"Nowhere in our former treaties and agreements with the US were there expressed provisions, robust provisions for environmental protection," Batino said.

A "clean-as-you-go" policy will be respected, said Malaya. Batino added the US is obliged not to intentionally release any hazardous materials, and to "expeditiously take action in order to contain and address environmental contamination" in the event of a spill.

"With respect to environmental compliance standards, it is expressly provided under the EDCA that it is the highest of the three that would prevail, namely, the US standards, the Philippine standards, or international standards. We think that this is a robust provision for environmental protection," Batino said.

The provision on environmental protection does not limit measures to the AFP bases and covers all joint activities implemented under EDCA. - Rappler.com