MANILA – The United States and the Philippines started rehabilitating the runway of the Basa Air Base in Pampanga on the island of Luzon, one of the five original Philippine military sites identified to host rotating American troops and their equipment under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
Rehabilitation of the runway started after eight years of delays and legal challenges to the EDCA, Department of National Defense Officer-in-Charge Carlito Galvez Jr. said on Monday.
“=Today, we laid down the time capsule to signify openly the start of the necessary rehabilitation of the Basa Air Base as one of the EDCA priorities,” Galvez said.
Secretary of the U.S. Air Force Frank Kendall attended the ceremony at the air base.
The rehabilitation of the 2,800-meter runway will cost $25 million, excluding “improvements” and the construction of the wing’s operation center, Galvez said.
“The runway rehabilitation, which is expected to be completed in September 2023, would make Basa Air Base ideal for the efficient conduct of joint task force exercises and as a natural hub for HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster response) operations, especially that we are a disaster-prone country,” he said.
Out of the 15 EDCA projects, five have been completed, five are still ongoing and the remaining five are up for implementation, Galvez said.
Aside from Basa, the four other original sites that will host American forces and their equipment are Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mactan, Cebu and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro.
The U.S. Embassy in Manila said that $11.4 million has been allocated for EDCA works at Fort Magsaysay, $1.8 million for Antonio Bautista; $2.7 million for the Benito Ebuen and $3.7 million for the Lumbia Air Base.
Late last year, Philippine military officials disclosed that the U.S. asked for four additional sites for the EDCA, and these camps are located in the provinces of Palawan, Zambales, Cagayan and Isabela.
Officials of Cagayan, led by Governor Manuel Mamba, however, are not amenable to hosting American forces in the province, but Galvez said Monday that Mamba has already withdrawn his opposition.
Local reports said the U.S. and Philippines were close to announcing two of the sites.
“The two countries will announce as soon as they can,” Kendall said during a press conference.
The EDCA was originally drafted in 2014 following the departure of the U.S. military in 1991. The agreement allows for U.S. forces to stage material and rotate forces throughout sites in the country. In February, during a visit by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the agreement added five more additional sites for use by U.S. forces. Manila and Washington also have a 1951 mutual defense pact.
The public ceremony comes as tensions between Beijing and Manilla have been on the rise over Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy, China Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia ships operating near Philippine holdings.