MANILA (Mabuhay) – A new round of joint military exercises by Philippine and American forces in Palawan and Luzon is a “soft launch” for the activities planned under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a progressive lawmaker claimed.
Kabataan party-list Terry Ridon said the 2014 Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX), which began Monday, can only heighten tensions in West Philippine Sea, the center of territorial disputes between Manila and Beijing.
“Organizers of the PHIBLEX themselves admit that the military exercises have nothing to do with China’s incursion in the West Philippine Sea. In other words, these US warships are not here to drive away China from Panatag Shoal. Yet what the US Navy fails to highlight is the threat their presence brings to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific Region,” Ridon said in a statement.
Philippine and US forces will hold amphibious landing exercises from September 29 to October 10 in several areas in Palawan and Luzon, including Subic Bay, to bolster coordination among American and Filipino soldiers when it comes to regional issues and humanitarian disasters.
Around 1,200 members of the Philippine Navy and 3,500 US Marines and sailors from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Commander, Task Force 76, are be involved in the latest round of the yearly military exercises.
Among the activities under PHIBLEX are a command post exercise, field training, amphibious operations, ship-to-shore movement and combined arms training.
EDCA is a 10-year defense agreement that allows for an enlarged rotational presence of American troops in the Philippines. Under the agreement, US military personnel will have access to designated Philippine military facilities, the right to construct facilities, and pre-position equipment, aircraft and vessels.
Its legality is now being questioned by several petitioners before the Supreme Court, including members of the Makabayan bloc in the House and civil society groups.
No noticeable benefits
Ridon said the presence of American military equipment on Philippine shores for PHIBLEX is proof that the naval war games have signaled the start of EDCA.
The US Marines have reportedly set up communication interception equipment, including a VSAT-Large satellite dish, and six tons of other communications equipment including walkie-talkies, computers and power generators in preparation for the joint military exercise.
Two US Navy ships – USS Peleliu (LHA-5) and USS Germantown (LSD-42) – have also arrived in Subic Bay, Zambales on Saturday as part of the war games.
Annual war games have not resulted in noticeable benefits for Filipino troops, according to the youth lawmaker.
“For over three decades now, the US and the Philippines have conducted the annual war games supposedly to improve our nation’s military prowess. Yet our armed forces remain weak and out of step… [of] modernity. The promised benefits of the annual military exercises have yet to be seen, but now we have EDCA, which will allow for unhampered military presence in the country,” Ridon said.
The Department of National Defense earlier said, during budget deliberations in the House of Representatives, it has not allotted any budget for projects under EDCA next year. No formal talks have been held regarding the agreed locations that US troops will be able to access under the military pact, the agency said. (MNS)