ASEAN’s weakest military force is the Philippines.

Senior Undersecretary Jose Faustino Jr., who heads the Department of National Defense, admitted on Monday that the country’s military might be one of the region’s weakest.

However, he emphasized that they are trying to modernize to strengthen their position. He referred to their treaty partners and like-minded countries, stressing that they would like to see a rules-based international order in those areas.

Before proceeding with the EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) sites, the country must consider certain constitutional provisions and national laws.

In particular, the Armed Forces should be able to answer questions made by legislators before the House Committee on National Defense and Security. For example, queries about why the Philippines, in particular the Armed Forces, could not prevent China from building structures in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and why funding for the AFP’s (Armed Forces of the Philippines) modernization program is so critical.

US-Philippines Alliance
(Source: Official U.S. Navy Page/Wikimedia)

The other DND (Department of National Defense) official said they are open to a joint venture using a new military property. However, he said that the properties would not be sold.

“I would not say that we are a pushover. Admittedly, our military capability is one of the weakest in the region. It is exactly why we are trying to modernize right now. We are trying to strengthen our position. We are aligning with our treaty partners and like-minded countries. We would like to have a rules-based international order in those areas,” he said.

Surigao del Norte Second District Rep. Robert Ace Barbers said it is best to show China that the Philippines is not a coward.

“We are very careful in dealing with this using military action because we might be subjecting ourselves to mistakes and miscalculations. But rest assured, the constructions we are aware of them. There were hundreds of diplomatic protests,” Faustino said while acknowledging the fact the Philippines’ military capability is not equal to that of its neighbors.

Although the AFP has been conducting patrols and maintaining its presence in the West Philippine Sea with available resources, Faustino assured lawmakers that there has been no reduction in presence.

Modernization is Key

The AFPs need to be modernized, and the lawmakers can help, Faustino said.

The DND announced Tuesday that the construction of three EDCA projects between the Philippines and the United States will begin next year.

$66.5 million has been allocated for EDCA projects as part of the defense modernization program, according to a statement by the DND.

“These are projects that are slated for implementation in the next two years,” the government body noted.

The projects include constructing training, storage, and other facilities at Cesar Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Ramon Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, and Lumbia Airport Base Station in Cagayan de Oro City.

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“The Department is committed to accelerating the implementation of the EDCA by having infrastructure enhancement and repair projects, developing new infrastructure projects at existing EDCA locations, and exploring new locations that will build a more credible mutual defense posture.”

The Mutual Defense Board (MDB) and the Security Engagement Board (SEB) remain committed to collaborating on projects under EDCA through the Security Engagement Board (SEB).

The Department of National Defense maintained that all US and foreign partners’ interactions must adhere to the Constitution.

“The Department is focused on planning joint activities that will enable us to develop our individual and joint capacity to address current security challenges in line with the implementing details provided by Philippines-US defense agreements anchored on the MDT,” the statement said.

“With the progress in Fort Magsaysay, Basa Air Base, and Antonio Bautista Air Base, the Department hopes to be able to complete other pending projects,” it added.

Lieutenant General Bartolome Vicente Bacarro said that the United States wishes to establish five more bases in the country under EDCA.

AFP and US Military
(Source: U.S. Indo-Pacific Command/Flickr)

The Philippines is also reportedly planning joint activities to develop our individual and collective capacity to address current security challenges in line with the detailed implementation of Philippines-US defense agreements based on the MDT.

The Department hopes to finish other pending projects due to the progress at Fort Magsaysay, Basa Air Base, and Antonio Bautista Air Base.

But, the DND and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) would still need to review and approve such proposals, Bacarro said.

The EDCA was signed in 2014 after a series of talks, and negotiations began in August 2013.

The agreement allows US troops to access designated Philippine military facilities and preposition equipment, aircraft, and vessels, but it prohibits permanent basing.
The Philippine government is collaborating with the United States to construct Cesar Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija; Lumbia Airfield in Cagayan de Oro City; Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan; and Benito Ebuen Air Base in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu.

There are currently five EDCA locations that have been agreed upon, and there will be ongoing projects for the next two years as part of the EDCA (Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board) summit in Hawaii. Some additional EDCA sites were also being considered.