Special Report EDCA, a valuable tool in AFP modernization

May 8, 2014 11:29 am

The signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) by ranking Filipino and American officials last April 28, has given the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) a much valuable tool in its ongoing modernization.

This was revealed by US Ambassador Philip Goldberg shortly after the formal signing of the agreement last week.

“It (EDCA) will also support the shared goal of promoting the long term modernization of the AFP and will help the AFP maintain and develop additional security, maritime domain awareness and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities,” he stated.

This is possible as the EDCA has a section which states that “value of prepositioned materiel in the enhancement of AFP defense capabilities and possible transfer of purchase of materiel determined to be excess.”

Sources said this means that defense equipment or materiel deemed excess by the Americans can be sold to Philippines for “friendship prices”.

A good example of these is the acquisition of the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15) and BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), vessels considered surplus by the US Coast Guard.

These patrol ships were transferred to the Philippines in 2011 and 2013 and are now considered the most modern vessels of the Navy.

Aside from giving the AFP a chance to acquire more modern equipment at a reasonable price, EDCA is also designed to promote the following between Filipino and American forces:

-Interoperability

-Strengthening AFP for external defense

-Maritime Security

-Maritime Domain Awareness

-Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR).

And in the position paper released by the Department of National Defense (DND), these steps are now being done through the holding of joint training exercises such as “Balikatan” and undertaking humanitarian assistance and disaster relief cooperation such as in the aftermath of Typhoon “Yolanda” last Nov. 8.

“We need look no further than the response to Typhoon ‘Yolanda’ which made landfall six months ago today to see the immeasurable value of those relationship. By the end of the initial relief efforts after ‘Yolanda’ in November the US military coordinated over USD 31million worth of assistance and working shoulder-to-shoulder with their Philippine counterparts, help evacuate over 21,000 people and move over 2,000 tons of supplies from government and civilian relief organizations into the affected areas,” Goldberg earlier said.

“Operation ‘Damayan’ was proof of the American commitment to close friends and neighbors in the Philippines in times of need, the successful response to Typhoon ‘Yolanda’ began with exercises like this one, regular bilateral training and operations develop strong bonds and effective teamwork which enable rapid and effective action in times of crisis, so remember while this maybe an exercise the skills you practice here have real world implications for the safety and security not just of the Philippines but the entire region,” he added.

The DND paper also said that to improve on the above, the Philippines and the US intend to undertake additional cooperation by way of:

-Construction of facilities and infrastructure upgrades;

-Storage and prepositioning of defense and HADR equipment, supplies and materiél.

DND Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, meanwhile, said the signing of the EDCA manifested the “deepened relationship” between the Philippines and the United States.

“The document we signed not only manifests the deepened relationship between the Philippines and the United States but equally serve as a framework for furthering our alliance as encapsulated in the title Enhanced Defense Cooperation, underpinned by the common goal of being able to meet the security challenges that both the Philippines and the United States share in common,” he pointed.

Gazmin said the alliance between the two country has continued to evolve as both nations constantly search for mechanism that would enhance its individual and collective abilities to face such security challenges.

“At a time when external armed attack was the key concern, we forged the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and put in place a Mutual Defense Board (MDB) when non-traditional security challenges came at the forefront we entered into the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which enabled our forces to train together and established the Security Engagement Board (SEB),” he pointed out.

“As defense and security challenges have become more complex, we (both the Philippines and United States) have realized the utility of having an agreement that would further enhance our ability to face those complicated challenges,” the DND chief related.

Gazmin also added that just a few weeks ago, he and US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel had an opportunity to talk about the important role which the EDCA would be playing in the furtherance of the relationship Filipino and American military establishments.

“This agreement allows us to work on what is called under the MDT, which is the development of individual and collective capacities, and sustains our ability to undertake what is possible under the VFA which are training and exercises. Most importantly, it enables us to do more by making the necessary equipment and infrastructure available whenever they are needed for the exercises and other activities that we do as allies,” he stressed.

The DND chief added that while the EDCA allows the Philippines and the US to do more in terms of military cooperation, the agreement remains anchored on the principle encapsulated in the MDT and what it possible through the VFA.

“Alliances evolve. Partnership develops. Engagement mature. But all throughout, it is the shared thrust to move forward together that keeps what is in place such as the MDT and the VFA relevant and offers the prospect of having new mechanisms, such as the agreement, possible. This is the essence of a maturing relationship. This is the spirit behind the agreement,” Gazmin stressed.

And contrary to claims made by militant groups, the EDCA does not give authority to the American forces to bring nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

“Prohibition of entry to the Philippines of nuclear weapons, and reference to respective obligations of both Parties under the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention,” the DND paper on the EDCA stressed.

It also pointed out that both parties must expressed strong commitment to protect environment, human health and safety; preference for Philippine suppliers of goods, products and service in US military procurement; and, regular consultation on the implementation of the agreement.

Aside from these, other EDCA main features include:

-Clear provisions that the US would “not establish a permanent military presence or base in the Philippines;

-US access to and use of designated areas in AFP owned and controlled facilities (“Agreed Locations”) will be at the invitation of the Philippine Government;

-Prior consent of the Philippines, through the MDB and SEB, with regard to US access and use of Agreed Locations which may be listed in an annex and further described in implementing arrangements;

-Philippines retention of primary responsibility for security of the Agreed Locations;

-Access of the AFP base commander to the entire area of the Agreed Locations;

-Philippine ownership of buildings and infrastructure once constructed by US military;

-Sharing and joint use of facilities in the Agreed Locations, including those built by the US military;

-Value of prepositioned materiél in the enhancement of AFP defense capabilities and possible transfer or purchase of materiél determined to be excess;

The DND paper also answered concerns about the return of US bases in the country

“The agreement is very clear on this matter and specifies in the Preamble the Parties’ understanding for the US not to establish a permanent military presence or base in the territory of the Philippines. The EDCA does not authorize the establishment of US bases. It allows the US military access to agreed location,” it said.

The EDCA also mandates that before constructions and other activities can be undertaken, prior consent of the Philippines will have to be secured through the MDB and SEB that were established under the MDT and the VFA.

The AFP base commander will have access to the entire area of the facilities shared with the US military. The Philippines will also own any building and similar infrastructure that will be built by the US military.

Activities to be undertaken under EDCA will likewise have to be approved by the Philippines through the MDB and SEB.

As this develops, efforts to modernize the Philippine Navy (PN), in a bid to carry out its mandate of protecting the country’s vast territorial waters, are now underway.

Projects aimed for this initiatives include acquisitions of two brand-new missile capable frigates, missile-armed MPACs and two anti-submarine helicopters, to name a few.

Earlier, the DND announced that it is allocating P5.4 billion for the acquisition of two anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters.

The money will be sourced from Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Trust Fund.

Acquisition of the two ASW helicopters are under the Medium Term Development Capability Plan for 2013 to 2017.

DND undersecretary Natalio C. Ecarma, Bidding and Awards Committee chair, said the contract includes munition, mission essential equipment, and integrated logistic support.

He added that the aircraft must be delivered within 730 calendar days.

Pre-bid conference is slated this May 20 at the DND Bidding and Awards Committee conference room, basement right wing, DND Building, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

First stage will be at June 3 and with second stage bidding to be announce latter.

Another big-ticket item in the frigate project which has a budget of P18 billion.

Commodore Roland Mercado, Navy technical working group head for the frigate program, said two more foreign shipbuilders have joined the project.

These firms are Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers Ltd. of India and STX France SA.

They were allowed to join in the bidding after their motions for reconsideration were considered by the DND Special Bidding Awards Committee.

They were earlier excluded from the project due to deficiency documents.

These companies now join Navantia Sepi (RTR Ventures) of Spain and South Korean firms STX Offshore & Shipbuilding, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. Ltd. and Hyundai Heavy Industries, Inc. who have successfully passed the first stage of the bidding.

Mercado said that they are now conducting technical discussions with Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers Ltd. of India and STX France SA.

“After which we draft the final technical specifications (the frigates),” he added.

Design assessments of the frigate proponents started last February.

Each bidder was given five working days to present their concept.

During this period, hull, powerplant, communications, and weapon systems designs were scrutinized closely by the technical working group.

While the MPAC project, which has budget of P270 million, aims to acquire three MPACs (multi-purpose attack craft) to boost the capabilities of the PN.

DND undersecretary Fernando Manalo said the sum includes “mission essential equipment and an initial logistic support packages.”

The money will be sourced from the AFP Modernization Act Trust Fund of 2000.

He added that interested bidders should also equipped these MPACs with provisions for advanced weapons system (remote weapon systems and missile launch system).

Mission essential equipment includes day/night electronic navigation systems, communication suites, safety-of-life-at-sea, propulsion system and seamanship and ship-handling gears. PNA