Philippines reveals which military bases it is allowing US to use

Camille Elemia
Philippines reveals which military bases it is allowing US to use Philippine Army Artillery Regiment commander Brig. Gen. Anthony Coronel (left) returns a salute from a U.S. soldier during a joint military drill in Nueva Ecija province, Philippines, March 31, 2023.
Aaron Favila/AP

The Philippines on Monday revealed the names of four bases it granted the United States access to in an agreement in February, with two of them confirmed to be facing Taiwan, and one of the others the South China Sea.

The sites in Cagayan, at the Naval Base Camilo Osias in Sta Ana, and Lal-lo Airport in Lal-lo, face Taiwan, while the base in Balabac island in Palawan faces the South China Sea. The fourth site is in Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela, the Presidential Communications Office said.

Defense Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said these sites in the country’s “outer portion” would be a deterrent factor.

“These areas are significant because as we see in Balabac island, that’s within our sea lines of communications, it’s a $3 trillion worth of trade route,” Galvez told reporters on Monday.

“We also have to think of our responsibility to the international community. Our responsibility to collectively secure that is very huge.”

Galvez said construction of facilities at these new sites was expected to start “immediately,” adding that Washington was keen on moving fast so the United States Congress could deliberate on and approve a budget for the projects.

These sites are in addition to five previously approved for U.S. access.

Those are the Cesar Basa Air Base and Fort Magsaysay, in the provinces of Pampanga and Nueva Ecija north of Manila; the Antonio Bautista Air Base and Benito Ebuen Air Base, in the central provinces of Palawan and Cebu; and the Lumbia Air Base in the southern city of Cagayan de Oro.

The Presidential Communications Office said the new sites were expected to “boost the disaster response of the country as the locations will also be used for humanitarian and relief operations during emergencies and natural disasters.”

U.S. and Filipino troops participate in exercises at Fort Magsaysay in the northern province of Nueva Ecija, Philippines, March 31, 2023. [Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews]

China has opposed the expanded EDCA deal, earlier saying it would put Manila in harm’s way by getting dragged into the “Taiwan question.”

Cagayan and Isabela provinces, in the northern Philippines, face Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing claims as part of its territory.

“Those visionary people all asked the soul-searching questions: If the new sites are located in Cagayan and Isabela, which are close to Taiwan, does the U.S. really intend to help the Philippines in disaster relief with these EDCA sites?” a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Manila said in a statement last month.

“And is it really in the national interest of the Philippines to get dragged by the U.S. to interfere in the Taiwan question? It is plain and simple that those moves are part of the US efforts to encircle and contain China through its military alliance with this country,” it said.

Balabac island is in the southern tip of the province of Palawan, which is bordered by the South China Sea in the west. The Philippines officially calls these waters within its exclusive economic zone as the West Philippine Sea. 

China and the Philippines have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, along with Taiwan and the Southeast Asian nations of Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam. China claims almost the entirety of the vast waters on historical grounds despite a 2016 international court ruling that invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims.

Meanwhile, in a statement issued Monday, the U.S. Department of Defense said the new locations would allow Washington “to respond more seamlessly together to address a range of shared challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.”

It further said it intends expand funding in addition to the U.S. $82 million (4.47 billion pesos) it has allocated toward infrastructure investments at the existing EDCA sites.

“The United States and the Philippines have stood shoulder-to-shoulder as friends and allies for more than seven decades, unwavering in our treaty commitments and our shared vision for a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous region,” the statement said.

The Philippines divulged the locations two months after Manila and Washington announced their deal to expand their Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

EDCA supplements the Visiting Forces Agreement, a 1999 bilateral pact providing legal cover for large-scale joint military exercises between the U.S. and the Philippines, Washington’s longtime defense ally in Asia.


‘Symbolizes and asserts sovereignty’

Separately, the Philippine Navy on Saturday raised the country’s flag on the uninhabited far-flung island of Mavulis.

The island is part of the Batanes Group of Islands, an hour flight from Cagayan and less than 150 km (93 miles) from southeast Taiwan’s Orchid island.

Troops raised the flag atop the highest peak of Mavulis, dubbed by the navy as the country’s “first line of defense.” The ceremony was the first event held there since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.

The ceremony also marked the first stop of the month-long country-wide mission, called Operation Bantay-Layag or Operation Sail Watch, of missile frigate BRP Antonio Luna. The operation seeks to intensify the country’s naval presence for maritime security and territorial defense.

“The hoisted flag also symbolizes and asserts sovereignty over the island,” said Cmdr. Jim Aris Alagao, acting commanding officer of BRP Antonio Luna.

The Philippine military raised the country’s flag there in 2016, in a move to “mark our sovereignty over our maritime territory.”

Since then, it built a fishermen’s shelter, which has doubled as a small base for the marine unit of the Naval Forces Northern Luzon. Some fishermen have avoided Mavulis because of the presence of foreign poachers, mostly Taiwanese.

Coast guard ships from the Philippines and Taiwan have confronted each other in the region where exclusive economic zones overlap. The governments almost cut ties in 2013 after a Philippine ship fired on a Taiwanese fishing boat, killing a fisherman.

In December 2022, the Philippine Coast Guard activated four lighthouses in the islands of Batanes to emphasize Manila’s sovereignty amid concerns of tension between Taiwan and China.


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