The armed forces have revealed that the US has requested access to an additional eight military bases in the Philippines under the 2014 Enhanced Defence and Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The EDCA allows the presence of American military forces in the Philippines on a rotational basis. Access to additional bases would enable the US to deploy more sophisticated destroyers and bombers as part of the regional military presence it is expanding in light of China’s assertiveness in the region. Of the eight military bases, four are located on the island of Luzon, two in Cebu province and two on the island province of Palawan.
With the prospect of a Presidential election in 2016 it is possible that Washington is attempting
The presence of US troops on Palawan is also likely to raise diplomatic tension between Manila and Beijing given the island’s close proximity to the disputed Spratly archipelago. Regional tension over China’s expansion in the disputed waters of the South China Sea (see our 24 April Report) has also seen Manila forge new diplomatic and military alliances with Vietnam, Japan and Taiwan. While military conflict remains unlikely, China’s activities are leading to increased tensions throughout the region.
China is still by far the most dominant and powerful military presence in the region, but the US request represents a clear indication that it intends to challenge Chinese restrictions over airspace and maritime borders. An enhanced US presence directly bordering the disputed territory is perhaps one of the few factors capable of influencing China’s strategic calculations. However, while the Aquino administration is likely to welcome a further deepening of the military partnership, the peace process remains Aquino’s priority and he is unlikely to sacrifice Congressional support for the Bangsamoro Basic Law.