Malacañang on Sunday said no part of the country will be “converted” into a facility for American servicemen under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that was recently upheld by the Supreme Court (SC).
In an interview over state-run Radyo ng Bayan, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. clarified that “identifying areas that would be used by both the Philippines and the US will have to be jointly agreed upon by the two countries.”
“On the part of the Philippines, we will base our decision on what will be beneficial for the country and the people. That remains our firm stand in the meeting of the Mutual Defense Board and the Security Engagement Board,” Coloma added.
He was reacting to reports claiming that Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has said that the old Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro City (Misamis Oriental province in Mindanao) will be converted into a US military depot.
Coloma also clarified that only an existing storage facility inside the old airport that is already being used to store equipment for calamities was being considered to be a “physical facility” to store materials that would be used by both Philippine and US armed forces during relief operations and military drills.
“We would like to clear that the facility is part of the HADR [humanitarian assistance and disaster relief], which is an important component of the EDCA. In times of storms, earthquakes and other calamities, this facility will help in the immediate deployment of relief troops to affected communities,” he explained.
Coloma said the Lumbia airport had been replaced by a newer one and that Gazmin may have just been misunderstood.
“We know for a fact that [US] military bases are no longer allowed [in the Philippines]and that what is present is the Visiting Forces Agreement where only rotational presence [of American troops]is allowed,” he pointed out.
Coloma said the EDCA has a new component that focuses on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief since soldiers are the first responders in times of disasters.