14 projects to upgrade new EDCA sites
FRANCO JOSE C. BAROÑA
The Manila Times
FOURTEEN projects have been proposed at the four new sites that will host American forces as part of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States. “These are all aligned to the modernization program of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) so that we will be more capable in performing our mission,” AFP spokesman Col. Medel Aguilar said in an interview on Thursday. The projects will be undertaken at the Naval Base Camilo Osias in Santa Ana, Cagayan; Camp Melchor de la Cruz in Gamu, Isabela; Balabac Island in Palawan and Lal-lo Airport in Cagayan. There are plans to upgrade Balabac to better accommodate Philippine and US troops, since Palawan island lacks major facilities and only hosts a small naval and littoral monitoring station. Part of the upgrade is the construction of the 3-kilometer runway which was funded under the Tikas Program, a partnership between the Department of National Defense and the Department of Public Works and Highways. The runway will be used by both civilian and military aircraft, a setup similar to EDCA projects at Mactan-Benito Ebuen Base in Mactan Island and Antonio Bautista Air Bases in Puerto Princesa. The runway is expected to be completed in March 2024 and will cost around $3.1 million. At the Naval Station Narcico del Rosario also in Palawan, a causeway and pier will be built to accommodate larger vessels and amphibious transports such as frigates and destroyer-sized ships. The station will also have a beach ramp and staging area, which would allow for easier access to construction materials for future EDCA projects. A similar project in Palawan is being undertaken by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) for a Vessel Support Facility in Bataraza. The PCG said the facility “will serve as the Forward Operating Base to support Coast Guard vessel operations in their area of responsibility.” Several EDCA projects have been completed at Antonio Bautista Air Base, one of the five original sites designated in 2014, including an ammunition warehouse, aviation fuel storage, and a command and control center. Other projects in the pipeline include a command and control building, a Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief warehouse, barracks for personnel and other facilities. The US committed $82 million for infrastructure investments at the EDCA sites. It has also pledged to hand over to the Philippines six patrol boats, including two of the former US Navy’s Cyclone-class Patrol Ships, and three transport aircraft. The Philippines has also shown interest in acquiring from the US F-16 fighter jets, high mobility artillery rocket system or HIMARS, and the Javelin weapons system. Last month, the two countries established bilateral defense guidelines during the official state visit of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to Washington. These guidelines focus on countering grey-zone tactics and reiterate that an attack in the South China Sea will activate mutual defense commitments.