We’re now the US’ unsinkable aircraft carrier
THE Americans asked the Philippine government to designate the Cagayan North International Airport in the north to be one of the additional four sites they could use as their forward operating sites (FOS) in war mobilization under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the two countries. President Aquino 3rd first agreed to the pact in 2014, with President Marcos Jr. expanding the number of FOS that the US could use.
Two government confidential documents provided me with such a plan. First was a late 2022 letter addressed to Jose Chan-Gonzaga, the assistant secretary for American affairs at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), that was sent by Pablo Lorenzo, assistant secretary for strategic assessments and international affairs at the Department of National Defense (DND).
The letter asserted: “This pertains to the inclusion of the Basa Air Base (BAB) Runway Repair Project and the Cagayan North International Airport (CNIA) as additional project and additional location, respectively, under the EDCA. As recommended by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the department shares the view that developing the CNIA as an additional proposed location as well as the inclusion of the BAB runway project as an additional project under EDCA may be favorably considered given its strategic value of constructing facilities and pre-positioning defense assets in these areas.” (emphasis mine)
In response to the DND letter, the DFA assistant secretary immediately wrote an “Extremely Urgent Memorandum” to Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo that reported: “Enclosed are the endorsements of the DND and the Armed Forces of the Philippines for the endorsement of the proposed amendment. Office of American Affairs notes the inclusion of the endorsement of Cagayan North International Airport as an Agreed Location for strictly information purposes only at this time.”
Sources in the DFA claimed that Manalo, allegedly “under instructions from above,” later endorsed the DND and AFP recommendations for the CNIA to be one of EDCA’s “agreed locations.”
“Agreed location” is the two governments’ euphemism for what the Pentagon has claimed is the American military’s “forward operating sites” under its new basing strategy.
Drawing lessons from its invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, during which its supply lines were dangerously thinly stretched, the Pentagon had developed this new EDCA concept of FOS for wars and low-intensity conflicts in which the US may be involved in the future. This was, as one study pointed out, America’s new, cost-effective “military basing paradigm” in the 21st century.
Sources claimed that the Americans emphasized verbally to DFA and DND officials that they could proceed with the plan to repair and extend the BAB airstrip only if the Philippines agrees to the inclusion of the Cagayan airport as an agreed location. It was the proposal to include the CNIA that made Cagayan Governor Mamba come out to publicly oppose any EDCA sites in his province.
However, defense department OIC Carlito Galvez recently claimed that the Cagayan official had relented and agreed to anything Marcos wanted.
Sources claimed that the Americans’ inclusion of the Cagayan airport as an EDCA site is the reason why the government has been delaying the announcement of the four new EDCA sites, as it expects an uproar against the plan, and is intensely checking with its lawyers if this would be legal.
Not only is the Cagayan airport not a military camp, as the other five EDCA sites are. It is technically privately owned and operated as a result of a 50-year joint venture agreement between the state-owned Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) and Cagayan Land Property Development Corp., with the private consortium contributing 58 percent in equity, or ₱966 million, while CEZA’s share is 42 percent, or ₱691 million.
After the Laoag International Airport in Ilocos Norte, the CNIA has the longest airstrip in northern Luzon, at 2,100 meters, capable of accommodating the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737. It was built to encourage foreign investments in the Cagayan Export Processing Zone, supported by a modernized container facility in Port Irene (yes, named after Marcos’ sister Irene).
The DND and the DFA will certainly have their propaganda work cut out for them in explaining to the public, if ever the proposal is implemented, why they allowed the CNIA to become an American FOS: Will CNIA become an attractive foreign investment site if it is put into the crosshairs of some People’s Liberation Army missile operator?
The designation of CNIA points to a fact hidden in the Philippine and US governments’ description of the EDCA sites. In this day and age, crucial would be airstrips that could accommodate huge US transport planes, with the Americans most advanced C-17 Galaxy requiring 1,828 meters and the older C-130, 1,600 meters. The CNIA has a 2,100-meter runway, while both the Mactan International and the Puerto Princesa International Airport have runways 3,000 meters long or more.
But aren’t Mactan and Puerto Princesa EDCA sites? Officially not. But the Benito Airbase in Mactan and the Antonio Bautista Airbase that are designated as EDCA sites share their airstrips with the civilian international airports. The “airbase” there merely are their terminals.
So the US would have a base for its cargo planes and warplanes in Mindanao (Puerto Princesa) and in the Visayas (Mactan). The Cagayan International Airport would be their airbase in the north, the closest to Taiwan.
In an actual war, the US of course would use the Clark International Airport, just 20 kilometers from the EDCA BAB site. EDCA is just an executive agreement signed in 2014 by the then-US ambassador to Manila and by the defense secretary at the time, Voltaire Gazmin. It could therefore be amended, say, to include Clark as an “extension” of BAB. The government has not yet released the amended EDCA (and who signed for it) which would have to indicate in its annex that the agreed locations have been increased to nine, which are the new locations.
“Unsinkable aircraft carrier” is the term for a geographically or politically important island that is used to extend the power projection of a military force, mainly by the Americans during World War 2 when they fortified some small islands in the Pacific between the US West Coast and Japan.
Gentlemen, our country is becoming the Americans’ unsinkable aircraft carrier, with Taiwan as its immediate target, and later China. In this day and age though, there is no such thing as an unsinkable warship.
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