There are no discussions with the United States as regards more Philippine military facilities which may be accessed by US forces under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, Defense Secretary Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro said on Thursday.
Asked in a news briefing if there was a discussion with US officials on increasing the number of EDCA, Teodoro said, “No, there was not a discussion. No specific discussions, and… there is nothing on my table to increase the number of… EDCA facilities on Philippine bases.”
The Philippines and the US in February agreed to designate four new sites in strategic areas of the country with the aim of accelerating the full implementation of the EDCA.
These will be established in Naval Base Camilo Osias in Sta Ana, Cagayan; Lal-lo Airport in Lal-lo, Cagayan; Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela; and Balabac Island in Palawan.
Before this, there are five existing EDCA sites: Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu, and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City.
“You can’t bite more than what you can chew. That’s what I was trying to state earlier. We got to make things work first before expanding, a lot of conglomerates have fallen because of too quick an expansion without being able to absorb the capability to sustain,” Teodoro said.
Teodoro in early July spoke on the phone with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
Austin during the call raised concern over the recent alleged harassment of Philippine vessels by Chinese vessels in Ayungin Shoal.
“Secretary Austin noted with concern the PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) recent coercive and risky operational behavior directed against Philippine vessels operating safely and lawfully in the South China Sea, including around Second Thomas Shoal,” Pentagon’s readout said.
US Ambassador MaryKay Clarkson also met Teodoro on Friday.
Meanwhile, Teodoro was asked during the briefing if the recent meeting of former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping is a cause for concern for the Philippines considering the activities of China in the South China Sea.
“Kailangan muna malaman natin kung anong pinag-usapan para mahusgahan natin kung cause of concern o hindi,” Teodoro said.
(We need to know first what was discussed so we can judge if this is a cause of concern.)
“Pero inaasahan natin dating presidente ng Pilipinas, Presidente Duterte, inaasahan din natin na ang interes ng Pilipinas ay taglay niya,” he added.
(But, we are expecting that former President Duterte has the interest of the Philippines.)
Asked if the DND will coordinate with Duterte on the matter, Teodoro said it is not the job of the DND to coordinate with Duterte because the department focuses on credible defense posture and Duterte is already a private citizen.
On Monday, Reuters reported that Xi asked Duterte to continue to promote cooperation between the two countries.
“I hope you will continue to play an important role in the friendly cooperation (between China and the Philippines),” state media cited Xi as saying during a meeting at the Diaoyutai state guest-house in Beijing.
“During your tenure as president of the Philippines, you had resolutely made the strategic choice to improve relations with China in an attitude of being responsible to the people and to history,” Xi told Duterte.
On Tuesday, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos said he was aware of Duterte’s trip to China and welcomed any new line of communication with the Asian power amid issues in the South China Sea.
Marcos added that he was certain Duterte will tell the Philippine government the details of his conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping and how it could affect the country.
He said he welcomed any new line of communication with China. –NB, GMA Integrated News