The Philippines agreed on Thursday to allow the US military access to four more military bases in the country.
The US Defense Department said the access to new locations “will allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines, and respond to other shared challenges.”
The announcement came during the visit of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to the archipelago nation, Washington's oldest military ally in Asia.
The expansion of military bases was agreed upon under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), signed in 2014.
The EDCA, a military deal between Manila and Washington signed during former Filipino President Corazon Aquino’s government, allows for the increased rotational presence of US troops, planes, and ships in Philippine military bases, as well as the construction of facilities to store fuel and equipment.
In 2016, the US military got access to five EDCA facilities, including Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro, and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.
“The EDCA is a key pillar of the US-Philippines alliance, which supports combined training, exercises, and interoperability between our forces. Expansion of the EDCA will make our alliance stronger and more resilient, and will accelerate the modernization of our combined military capabilities,” said a statement released by the US Defense Department.
It added that the US has also allocated over $82 million for infrastructure investments at the existing five sites under the EDCA.
The US and the Philippines have committed to moving quickly in agreeing to the necessary plans and investments for the new and existing EDCA locations, the statement said.
In a meeting with Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Austin said the US will “help the Philippines modernize its defense capabilities as well as increase the interoperability of American and Filipino military forces.”
“From defense perspective, we will continue to work together with our great partners and to build and modernize your capabilities as well as increase our interoperability,” Austin said.
The Filipino president’s office said in a statement that Marcos told the visiting US defense delegation that Manila “sees the future of the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific tied up with the United States because of the Philippines’ and the region’s strong and historic partnership with the US.”
“And again, I have always said that it seems to me that the future of the Philippines and, for that matter, the Asia Pacific will always have to involve the United States simply because those partnerships are so strong and so historically embedded in our common psyches that can only be an advantage to both our countries,” Marcos told Austin.
Marcos described the region's situation as "complicated," and said he exchanged "some ideas, thoughts, and information... on the current situation in the Asia-Pacific" with the US defense chief.
“The Philippines,” Marcos said, “can only navigate properly in this environment with the help of its partners and allies in the international sphere.”
“As we traverse these rather troubled waters — geopolitical waters, the economic waters — that we are facing, I again put great importance on that partnerships, specifically with the United States… all partnerships and alliances that we are able to make with our friends around the world,” he said.
In 2016, the Philippines Supreme Court ruled that the agreement was constitutional after it was challenged.
Those who opposed the EDCA at the top court had argued that it was a “de facto basing agreement.”
The Philippines Senate had in a historic vote shut down all the US bases in the Southeast Asian nation. However, later in 1999, Manila and Washington signed the Visiting Forces Agreement – a treaty that allows the return of US troops.