Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. on Saturday, Feb. 4, quelled fears of possible development or test of nuclear weapons to be allegedly conducted by the United States in military facilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as part of the implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
"At the outset, let me point out that defense capability building is within the sovereign right of every country, and in the pursuit of that right the DND has been and will always remain consistent in its position that all engagements with the US as well as other foreign partners must be conducted in accordance with the Philippine Constitution and other national laws," Galvez said.
The defense chief said EDCA is primarily envisioned to develop the AFP's bases and facilities in line with the DND's efforts to enhance the country's defense posture.
EDCA was signed in 2014 by the United States and Philippine governments as a supplemental agreement to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). The accord allows US troops to rotate into the Philippines, as well as build and operate facilities in the bases of the AFP.
Currently, there are five existing EDCA sites in AFP bases and four additional sites will be constructed as part of the acceleration of the implementation of the agreement, as announced by the Philippines and US' defense establishments last Thursday.
But the expansion of EDCA was criticized by ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro, who said such move poses a nuclear threat to the country.
The locations of the four new EDCA sites have yet to be revealed but among those previously considered include Cagayan, Palawan, Zambales, and Isabela which are near the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and Taiwan Strait, and where conflict between nuclear-capable countries of US and China spark every now and then.
Nonetheless, Galvez said the construction of EDCA facilities where US troops and equipment are set to be rotated "will directly contribute to the enhancement of the AFP's capabilities."
"Prepositioned equipment that will be stored in the Agreed Locations will strengthen our capabilities to immediately deliver humanitarian assistance to disaster-affected areas as well promote more rapid reaction times during disasters, emergencies, or contingencies," he stressed.
Galvez also reiterated the commitment of his American counterpart, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III, that the US is not seeking permanent military basing in the Philippines.
"In terms of personnel, no less than US Secretary of Defense Austin reiterated during our recent joint press conference that EDCA is not about permanent basing in the Philippines, which is forbidden by the Philippine Constitution, but rather a collaborative agreement that will allow our allies access to training opportunities with Philippine personnel on a rotational basis for the purpose of enhancing interoperabilty and mutual capacity building between Philippine and US forces," he explained.
"I must stress that EDCA and its implementation, the AFP Modernization Program, or the PH-US alliance are directed to modernize our capabilities and collaboration to react to emergencies and protect our maritime and environmental interests," the Secretary continued.
"Thus, these EDCA sites should not be a cause for concern for anyone since it could also spur economic investments, joint protection and preservation of our maritime and natural resources," he concluded.