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More bases may make China blink, say solons

SENATORS Gregorio Honasan and Antonio Trillanes IV said on Sunday they had expected there would be more than five bases made available to the Americans in the Philippines under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) to counter China’s aggressive encroachment in the South China Sea.

Honasan even suggested the United States set up a facility in the conflict zone just west of the Philippines.

“I hope China will blink so that when they blink, it will pave the way for negotiations. And that is what you call leveraging,” said Honasan, the vice presidential running mate of Vice President Jejomar Binay.

At the conclusion of their annual strategic dialogue on March 17-18, Manila and Washington announced the US military would have access to  the following facilities in the Philippines: Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro, Basa Air Base in Floridablanca and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.

The 10-year Edca was signed in 2014, but it only received the green light in January after the Philippine Supreme Court affirmed its constitutionality. The deal—a key part of the Obama administration’s effort to reassert the US presence in Asia—allows Washington greater access to Philippine military bases through the rotation of troops, ships and aircraft for humanitarian and maritime security operations.

“To be honest, I was expecting around eight locations,” Trillanes said in a text message. The former Navy officer said there were three more “ideal locations” for the US forces—in Sulu, Maguindanao and General Santos City.

He said the announcement of the five locations for US access was “the shot in the arm that the security sector has long been waiting for since the US bases were removed in 1991.”

One of the benefits of this arrangement is the local economies of these areas flourishing, Trillanes said.

Asked whether the access arrangement would deter China from its reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea, Trillanes said: “That is not the primary intention of Edca but that would be one of the effects.”

Honasan, a former Army colonel, said the net effect of Edca would be to “contain” China, pointing out the Chinese already occupied 800 hectares in disputed areas.

The senator urged the Philippines to consider proposing that the United States put up an installation in the West Philippine Sea—at Panatag Shoal and other areas of conflict—since it has gone as far as agreeing to Edca. With Julie M. Alipala; AFP

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