American soldiers may be deployed to disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) alongside their Filipino counterparts under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), according to Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, a former chief of the Armed Forces.
The lawmaker, a member of the ruling Liberal Party, on Tuesday noted that the deployment of US troops is similar to the provision under the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that allows American soldiers to engage in anti-terrorism and disaster-preparedness training with their Philippine counterparts. American soldiers, however, are banned from participating in combat operations.
“Maybe [we can have it on a]rotational basis on the issue of personnel deployment . . . because we have no [military facilities]there except some barracks and some civilians on Pag-asa Island [in the West Philippine Sea]. It is [rotational presence of American troops in the country that is]happening now under the VFA,” Biazon told reporters.
The EDCA, which was declared constitutional by the Supreme Court last week, allows US forces to conduct activities inside Philippine military bases. These activities include training, transit, support and other related activities; refueling of aircraft, bunkering of vessels, temporary maintenance of vehicles, vessels and aircraft; temporary accommodation of personnel; and communications, prepositioning of equipment, supplies and material and deploying forces and materials.
“We need EDCA. Remember, we are not only addressing the creeping aggression of China.
We are addressing the problem of international terrorism, global terrorism, we are addressing [these issues]for us to put our resources together, to address consequences of natural or man-made disasters,” Biazon pointed out.
He, however, clarified that storing weapons on the disputed islands is a big no-no, considering that the country has conflicting claims with China over resources-rich West Philippine Sea islands.
“It will not be wise for us and for them [Americans] to consider stocking up things on those small islands,” the Muntinlupa City (Metro Manila) lawmaker said.
The Philippines filed a case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague amid a bitter dispute over islands in the West Philippine Sea.
China, under its ancient nine-dash-line, claims the entire sea, including islands very close to the Philippines.