STA. ANA, Cagayan, Philippines – The United States may station troops at the Philippine Navy base here under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
Local officials disclosed that a team of US servicemen, accompanied by US embassy staff, inspected the Camilo Osias Naval Base facility in Barangay San Vicente here recently.
Located on the northern tip of Cagayan, Camilo Osias base has maritime and territorial jurisdiction over the country’s northern frontier – a portion of the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
A local official who saw the five US visitors said they were “introducing themselves as tourists... and proceeded to inspect the naval base.”
The local official asked not to be named, saying he is not authorized to speak on issues of national concern.
The base has a port and an airfield that can accommodate C-130 cargo planes, one of the requirements being considered by the US military leadership on the planned increased deployment of forces in the country.
An international airport, currently under construction, is now 80 percent complete in nearby Lal-lo town. The airport is being built to further bolster tourism in the northern end of Cagayan province. It can accommodate huge military cargo planes and fighter jets when it becomes operational.
Naval officials and personnel based here, however, declined to comment on the issue of the planned US troop deployment.
Defense Secretary Voltaire, for his part, Gazmin said this has yet to be agreed upon by the Philippines and the US governments.
Under EDCA, the US government, in line with its military pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, is allowed to increase the deployment of troops as well as its air and naval assets on rotation basis on the condition that they are barred from establishing their own bases, which should be co-located inside Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) military facilities.
While the legality of the newly signed agreement is being questioned by several groups, the national government is upbeat that the increased presence of US troops in the country’s western and northern frontiers will be a big boost to the country’s territorial and external defense while the military is rebuilding its own capability.
With its limited capability, the Philippine military is faced with a major challenge in dealing with increased intrusions of foreign military aircraft and ships and fishing vessels inside its 200-mile exclusive economic zone, not only in the West Philippine Sea, but also in territorial waters of Batanes and at Bingham Rise in the Pacific Ocean.
At present a lone Philippine Coast Guard vessel and a small Navy patrol ship are alternately patrolling the waters of Batanes and Bingham Rise.
The areas are being developed as an alternate fishing ground for displaced Filipino fishermen from Zambales after they were no longer allowed to fish in their traditional fishing spots at Panatag Shoal by its Chinese occupants.
The planned deployment of US troops will be a first, unlike those at Subic, Zambales; Clark Air Field in Pampanga and Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.