A 10-year agreement now known as Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed to give the U.S. military greater access to Philippine bases is perceived to help promote peace and stability in the region amid high hopes that China’s dominant power “will allow its neighbors to prosper in its own terms”.
Signed in time for President Barack Obama’s whirlwind visit to the Philippines recently as part of a weeklong Asian tour that included Japan, South Korea and Malaysia, the new agreement reaffirmed the United States’ commitments to defend its Asian allies in their territorial disputes with China.
Although couched in terms as not to encroach on the host’s delicate issue of sovereignty with provisions that are “consistent with the Philippine Constitution, laws and jurisprudence” the safeguards still failed to appease protesters who see the new military pact in a different perspective.
The Philippine military has struggled to bolster its territorial defense amid China’s aggressive stance in the oil and gas rich South China Sea. Chinese paramilitary ships took effective control of the disputed Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground off the northwester Philippines in 2012. Last year, Chinese coast guard ships surrounded another contested offshore South China Sea territory, the Second Thomas Shoal.
President Obama at a news conference with President Benigno Aquino III at the Malacañang Palace reassured of the US’ intention of making sure that “international rules and norms are respected which include in the area of international disputes” and believes China should resolve disputes with its neighbors through dialogue.
Obama emphasized at the onset of his remarks that the U.S. “wasn’t trying to reclaim bases or open new ones and that the agreement will improve maritime security and hasten response to regional natural disasters”.
President Aquino, for his part, hailed the new agreement as one that takes RP-US security cooperation on a higher level of engagement and reaffirms both countries’ commitment to mutual defense and security and promotes regional peace and stability.
The agreement is designed, according to Philippine officials, to promote between the two countries the following in the areas of Interoperability, Capacity building towards AFP modernization, Strengthening AFP for external defense, Maritime Security, Maritime Domain Awareness, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR).
The agreement will not only be an important part of the existing 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), but will serve to update the two countries’ security alliance to meet the increasingly complex challenges of the 21st century on terrorism, transnational crime, or natural disasters”.
Still, the new U.S. military role has drawn the ire of some Filipino activists, who see the agreement as a reversal of “the democratic gains achieved when huge American military bases were shut down in the early 1990s that ended the nearly century-long military presence in the former U.S. colony”.