PHILIPPINE and US defense officials’ propaganda is that the sites that US military forces will be using for war mobilization under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) are military camps.
However, one of the four additional EDCA locations is an entirely civilian facility: the airport in Lal-lo in Cagayan province, officially called the Cagayan North International Airport (CNIA).
The airport is technically not entirely a government facility, since it was built and run by the Cagayan Premium Ventures Development Corp., a joint venture between the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) and a private firm Cagayan Land and Property Development Corp.
For the Cagayan airport to be designated as an EDCA site, it would need the official approval of both the CEZA and the Cagayan Premium Ventures Development Corp. This, I was told, has not yet been done, as the CEZA’s leadership has been in confusion after its chief executive officer, Raul Lambino, was asked to step down in July 2022.
Replacing him was Jaime Escaño, a CEZA director. For unknown reasons, however, Escaño stepped down in January leaving an officer in charge, Joseph Tan, to head the CEZA. Tan was a lawyer at the law firm known as “Pecabar” whose leading figure is the presidential chief legal counsel Juan Ponce Enrile.
One justification for the CNIA to be built is that it would make the CEZA, also a freeport, more attractive to investors, especially to Taiwan’s chip-making firms, which are among the biggest in the world, since it is only 580 kilometers away from that island. That would make the transport of chips assembled in CEZA to Taiwan very cost-effective. Ironically, as an EDCA site, it will be easy for Chinese missiles to reach it in case of a war between the two powers over Taiwan.
What investor would be bold enough to invest in CEZA, which is not just 40 kilometers from the EDCA-site Cagayan Airport and another EDCA site, the Camilo Osias Naval Base?
More important though than the legal issues involved in allowing the US military to use a civilian facility, the designation of Cagayan airport as an EDCA site reveals the Pentagon’s real intentions under that agreement entered into in 2014 by the late President Aquino 3rd and expanded by President Marcos Jr.
In case of a mobilization for war — for instance to defend Taiwan from an invasion by China — the EDCA actually does not only limit the number of sites the US military can use nor the number of troops (2,500 only in the case of the Romanian EDCA) and warplanes it can station in these locations.
Cleverly, the US got Aquino not to limit EDCA sites to military camps, hence the use of the term in the agreement “agreed locations” instead of “agreed Philippine military camps.” Paragraph 4, Article II of the EDCA document states: “Agreed Locations” means facilities and areas that are provided by the Government of the Philippines through the AFP…” The phrase “through the AFP” simply means our military supervising the authorization of any facility as an “agreed location,” and not necessarily military camps, as now proven in the case of the Cagayan airport.
Clark and Subic
The so far nine agreed locations — smaller military facilities most Filipinos haven’t heard of before — make up a smokescreen: In case of a war mobilization, the US will ask the Philippines to designate the better, bigger sites of Clark Airfield and Subic Naval and Air base. The airstrip of course of the EDCA designated location Ebuen Airbase is actually that of Mactan International Airport.
In short, strip EDCA of its smokescreens, and the US military bases of the 1960s and 1970s are back. These for the US are even better than the old permanent Clark air and Subic naval bases, as a Pentagon think tank paper had explained and officially called “cooperative security locations.” These — 50 such sites all over the world now — are vastly cheaper to operate than permanent camps which require troop barracks, officials’ residences, hospitals, and even American military men’s entertainment facilities The US troops don’t also have to deal with locals’ nationalist sentiments and social problems such as prostitution spawned by a permanent US military base, as has been the case of Clark and Subic. Very significantly the Cagayan and Balabac airports are so far from metropolitan Manila to be monitored by media and even politicians.
More importantly, the US would no longer have just two camps (Clark and Subic in the past ) to operate from, but nine scattered all around the country.
Give it to the Americans for their strategic planning. There is practically “nothing” — its copper mine was closed in 1973 — in Balabac island at the southernmost point of Palawan, with just 45,000 population, mostly Muslims living in poverty. Its only distinction is that it is the island closest to the Spratlys, just 250 kilometers away from the Chinese-occupied Mischief Reef.
Out of the blue
In 2018, four years after EDCA was inked, the Palawan provincial government out of the blue entered into an agreement for the public works department to build for the Philippine Air Force (PAF) an airbase on 300 hectares of land. PAF officials claimed in 2021 that the airstrip was 41 percent completed and was still to be finished in 2022. Both the Navy and the Army announced plans to build their bases on the island, near the airstrip. Palawan said when construction was started: “This is a big milestone for us, as we impart on securing the future of the West Philippine Sea, including our southern borders,” Palawan Gov. Jose Alvarez said at its groundbreaking event.
Then only this month, we were informed by the US and Philippine defense officials that Balabac has been designated as an EDCA site. How’s that for strategic planning? How’s that for getting Filipino taxpayers to pay for a facility the American military will mainly use.
The US plan is increasingly clear. It will pour much of the $82 million American officials say they have secured congressional approval for EDCA sites’ infrastructure into the Balabac and Cagayan airport facilities, so these could accommodate the biggest US warplanes.
The US now has two major military bases — Cagayan and Balabac — close to Chinese territory that they would use as platforms for war against their new rival, China. The US Pivot to Asia, started by President Obama in 2012, is in place, ready for war.
Back to the 1960s and 1970s as a site for the US military. What’s happened to our country?
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