President Benigno S. Aquino III graces the 109th Commencement Exercises of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Siklab Diwa Class of 2014 at the Fajardo Grandstand, Borromeo Field, Fort General Gregorio del Pilar in Baguio City on Sunday(March 16). The PMA boast of a long and illustrious history of preparing only the best Filipino men and women for military service. (MNS photo)

President Benigno S. Aquino III graces the 109th Commencement Exercises of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Siklab Diwa Class of 2014 at the Fajardo Grandstand, Borromeo Field, Fort General Gregorio del Pilar in Baguio City on Sunday(March 16). The PMA boast of a long and illustrious history of preparing only the best Filipino men and women for military service. (MNS photo)

MANILA (Mabuhay) — Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino said on Tuesday the recently signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States will boost the capability of the Filipino military in dealing with aggressive expansionist acts in the Asean region.

In a statement forwarded by the Department of National Defense (DND) to the Philippines News Agency, Batino said this new level of cooperation with the U.S. will also enable the government to respond more rapidly in times of natural disasters, which in the past years had posed a serious threat to human safety and security.

Batino served as chair of the Philippine panel that negotiated the EDCA with the U.S.

“The Philippines faces serious challenges: To our sovereignty and sovereign rights, developments in the region point to an increasingly aggressive acts; to human safety and security, the frequency and severity of natural disasters point to the need to anticipate, address or mitigate their real impact on people and communities,” the DND official said.

“In these very fluid times, we – together – are forced to take a long and hard look at what we can do as one government to respond to the challenges before us,” Batino added.

In Tuesday’s Senate hearing on the EDCA, he pointed out that the agreement will contribute to the capability buildup of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the areas of maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), while the military and the DND are in the process of modernizing and beefing up the country’s defense capabilities and equipment.

“With pre-positioned equipment and materiel, our soldiers will be able to train and develop their capabilities even before the Philippine government acquires such equipment, boosting the speed of our capacity-building efforts for men and women in uniform,” Batino said.

He explained that buildings and other permanent structures to be constructed for the use of U.S. troops visiting on rotational basis will be automatically owned by the government, and as such, “will greatly hasten the development of Philippine military facilities.”

On pre-positioned HADR equipment of the U.S., Batino pointed out that this will allow the government to respond more rapidly in times of natural disasters and other crises.

Batino, however, assured the Senate Committee on Defense that prior consent of the Philippine government is necessary before any U.S. activity can take place in the agreed location, which will be determined through the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board.

“The EDCA does not authorize the establishment of U.S. bases. It allows the U.S. military access to agreed locations,” he told the committee.

“Given the rapidly evolving geopolitical and climatic realities in the Philippines and beyond, and the conduct of joint training exercises, the EDCA is a natural progression of the alliance between the Philippines and the United States,” Batino said.

He added that the EDCA is an implementation of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, while the status of American forces is governed by the PHL-US Visiting Forces Agreement, a treaty concurred in by the Senate and upheld by the Supreme Court. (MNS)