Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. on Sunday, Feb. 5, extended his appreciation to three senators who supported the accelerated implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and the planned joint patrol operations by the Philippines and United States in the South China Sea (SCS).
Galvez said it was “encouraging” that Senators Francis Tolentino, Francis Escudero, and Sherwin Gatchalian all shared “favorable sentiments” on the establishment of four additional EDCA sites in the bases of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the resumption of the joint patrol operations in SCS.
“It is the DND’s mandate to secure and defend our sovereignty and sovereign rights such as the freedom of our people to fish in our own waters,” the defense chief said.
"It is truly encouraging that our distinguished senators are aware of the importance of EDCA and joint maritime patrols to our national interest. I thank them again for their support," he added.
After Galvez’ bilateral talks with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III at Camp Aguinaldo last Feb. 2, the three lawmakers expressed support to the defense and security policy developments that the officials have discussed, including the expansion of EDCA sites and the joint patrols.
This, despite ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. France Castro warning that the proposed establishment of additional EDCA sites could pose nuclear threats to the Philippines.
Tolentino said that he was in favor of defense and security cooperation “upgrades” with “reliable allies” like the US “so long as this is anchored on solid constitutional foundations and for the greater interest of the nation.”
Meanwhile, Escudero noted that “there is no reason not to continue” the joint patrol operations in the vast SCS to deter China’s “encroachments and acts of harassment” in the West Philippine Sea, or the area in the SCS which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
For his part, Gatchalian shared that the joint patrols and other cooperative military activities with US “would enhance military interoperability between the two countries.”
“This is not only about combat, one huge aspect is disaster preparedness and we all know the US is well equipped for such situations,” he said.
Galvez underscored that their efforts to boost the defense posture of the country are consistent with the foreign policy of the administration of “being a friend to everyone and enemy to no one.”
“We also share the vision of like-minded nations in ensuring freedom of navigation and a peaceful, stable, and free Indo-Pacific,” he stated.