Philippine and US troops hold ‘Salaknib’ 2023 in Nueva Ecija on Friday, March 31, 2023. The live fire exercises were performed at the AAR Long Range Precision Firing Area, Canantong, Laur. The military activity, which aims to build readiness and increase interoperability among allies, precedes the annual ‘Balikatan’ or shoulder-to-shoulder exercises which will be conducted in April this year. PHOTO BY MIKE DE JUAN

The Department of National Defense (DND) reiterated on Saturday that the Philippines retains its sovereignty and control over the facilities identified under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States.

The Defense department issued the statement after the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and Bayan Muna criticized certain provisions in the agreement that they claim allow the US military to have unlimited access to troops, bases, and other activities.

ACT party-list Rep. France Castro said under Article 3, Paragraph 2 of EDCA, the Philippines cannot decline if the US requests access to use any public land and facilities in the country — including private property.

Castro said the nine EDCA locations are bound to increase, turning the whole country into a US base.

Meanwhile, former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares questioned Article 12, Paragraph 4 of the agreement which states, EDCA shall “continue in force unless terminated.”

“The EDCA is a continuing agreement, and this is the fundamental problem. Because it does not have a term limit, there is no mandatory requirement for its review within a certain period before it expires, nor does it require renegotiation upon the expiry,” he said.

The DND, however, stressed that there is no “gross violation of our national sovereignty” as claimed by certain quarters.

It stated that the EDCA, which is an offshoot of the 1951 Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), was deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court.

“The EDCA Agreed Locations are not permanent basing facilities for the US, but will be jointly operated by the two sides, and their use by our treaty ally is subject to our permission and mutual agreement,” the DND said in a statement issued on Saturday.

It further stressed that the EDCA sites primarily consist of storage facilities, which require minimum use of facilities since they will only be utilized during exercises and emergencies, and improvements on existing facilities owned and operated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

In addition, the US is funding the construction and development of the EDCA Agreed Locations and, in doing so, is creating jobs and boosting the local economies of the communities where the sites are located, the DND said.

Just recently, the Philippines and the US identified four new sites: Naval Base Camilo Osias in Santa Ana, Cagayan; Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela; Balabac Island in Palawan; and Lal-lo Airport in Cagayan.

The DND said the development of these sites is one of the steps toward strengthening the country’s ability to secure its territory.

“These will be important in defending our territory, responding to disasters, and protecting the welfare of our fishermen who make a living in our seas,” it added.

The DND called on the public to approach and understand the issue beyond the “myopic perception that strengthening the military’s capabilities means inviting war or conflict.”

“Time and again, the assets and facilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines have been utilized to respond to various threats to the security and safety of the Filipino people. Allocating resources for the development of the country’s defense capabilities and the enhancement of the skills of its troops is a part of the functions of a state such as the Philippines,” the DND said.

As for selling old US equipment, the DND said that they no longer buy surplus military equipment.

“It’s all new and not all of it is from the United States. We have a few platforms that have been in service for a long time but we are gradually retiring and replacing them. We assure the people that the DND and AFP are exercising judicious use of the funds allocated for our defense posture, to allow our military to more effectively perform its mandate to the people,” the DND said.