PAMPANGA, Philippines (UPDATED) – A military deal signed between the Philippines and the US in 2014 finally proceeds with the construction of the first facility in Basa Air Base in Pampanga in northern Luzon.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Tuesday, April 17, attended by Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and US Ambassador Sung Kim.
The site will feature a multi-purpose warehouse that will primarily store assets for humanitarian assistance and disaster response, the current focus of the Philippines-US partnership.
The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) is an agreement that allows the US military to construct facilities and pre-position defense assets inside Philippine military bases. (READ: What is EDCA? Look at Zambo's PH-US joint operations)
Lorenzana said the agreement shows how both countries are committed to "long term solutions to shared problems."
Kim said EDCA is a testament to the "continued dedication and commitment to our partnership and friendship." It's an "agreement between two sovereign nations, a pact between equals," he added.
Last year, the Armed Forces of the Philippines asked Congress for money to fund initial ground work to implement the agreement. (READ: PH military asks Congress for P124 million counterpart fund)
Basa Air Base is one of 5 locations that had been previously identified as EDCA sites. The other 4 are the Edwin Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga City, Camp Bautista in Palawan, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, and Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro.
Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler
EDCA was signed during the previous Aquino administration. It was envisioned to increase US presence in the Philippines as the country sought to deter Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
But the agreement was hounded by constitutional issues as critics said it is a "de facto basing agreement," which is not allowed under the 1987 Constitution. But the petitions were junked in the Supreme Court.
President Rodrigo Duterte, at the start of his administration, threatened to scrap EDCA along with the annual Balikatan war games. Relations between the two countries have since shown marked improvement.
The Balikatan exercises for 2018 will be held in May.
"I’m very pleased with the state of our alliance in general. Our exercises are continuing. Planning for Balikatan this year has been well underway fo rmany months now. I expect that it will be a very productive exercise this year as it was last year," Kim told Rappler.