AFP to allow US to use, develop 3 bases

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ARMED Forces chief of staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista on Thursday offered three military bases for the use of the armed forces of the United States (US) in compliance with the provisions of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed by Philippines and the US.

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As this developed, the two countries’ armed forces on Thursday ended their 30th annual Balikatan Exercises by showcasing their rapid response force capabilities during the combined arms live-fire exercises (Calflex) at the Crow Valley Gunnery Range in Capas, Tarlac.

“I’d like to say the possibilities where I would like them to be. For instance in Fort Magsayasay, in Zambales in San Miguel (Naval Base), and maybe in Oyster Bay in Palawan. These are the bases that we can offer them, these are also the bases that we need to develop,” Bautista said in an interview with ABS-CBN.

The said bases, he added, were traditional training grounds not just for the Philippine military but also for its allies, citing as an example the joint annual Balikatan Exercises of Filipino and American troops.

Bautista admitted that the EDCA and other military training exercises with the US would mean additional expenses for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) but stressed that the benefits the AFP and the government would gain in return was beyond monetary value.

“I’d like to address them from the strategic perspective. We have a Mutual Defense Treaty with the US. We have to demonstrate that the treaty works, we have to exercise together to increase our interoperability and that is the essence of the Mutual Defense Treaty. That we have the facility to implement that and when necessary it serves as a deterrent to any who would be aggressive,” he explained.

“You cannot translate that into monetary terms, the deterrent effect,” Bautista added.

He also pointed out that the Philippines and the US have signed the so-called Mutual Logistic Support Agreement that applied to their joint military exercises even before the signing of the EDCA.

Under the agreement, Bautista said, the AFP places value on the use of its facilities, which the US can pay in cash or in kind.

According to him, all said the three AFP military bases needed a lot of development to make them world-class training facilities.

Bautista said that the airstrip of Fort Magsaysay needed to be improved to accommodate bigger aircraft and its barracks, training facilities and support facilities, among others.

Fort Magsaysay is located in Nueva Ecija. It is the biggest camp of the AFP.

The same was true, he said, of San Miguel Naval Base in San Antonio, Zambales, which was built by US forces in 1955 as a naval communication facility.

The facility is now the home of the Philippine Navy’s Naval Education and Training Command.

As for Oyster Bay in Palawan, Bautista said, the Department of National Defense has allocated funding for its development but it was not enough. With the EDCA, it can be further improved and developed into a real base for the Philippine Navy or for bilateral exercises.

He pointed out that Oyster Bay is strategically located because of its accessibility to the disputed West Philippine Sea or South China Sea.

“It is important for us because we have access to the disputed areas, It is easier for us to support our patrols in the West Philoippine Sea and it allows us to address the issues and threats in there,” Bautista added.

“We have a base there, but facilities are not that good yet. For example, we need to improve the pier, we need to improve living facilities and support facilities,” he further said.

Oyster Bay is about 160 kilometers or 100 miles from the disputed Spratly Group of Islands.

The defense department has recently allotted P300 million for the construction of a pier, a harbor and support facilities needed to improve the AFP’s response capability in the West Philippine Sea.

The Oyster Bay project, however, is still up for bidding.

Concerning the Balikatan, the AFP troops that took part in the exercise include the Philippine Army Infantry Battalion, composed of soldiers from the 20th Infantry Battalion and the 31st Mechanized Company; Marine Battalion Landing Team, composed of the 211th Marine Company and the 511th Marine Weapons Company; Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force; Artillery Company; and the Philippine Air Force Support Units.

The US participants, on the other hand, were composed of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Detachment.

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