Media on EDCA: Taking on geo-political issues and local concerns

CHEERS TO Rappler, TV5, and Radyo Singko for reports that explained the issues involved in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the  implementation of which is being “expanded.” The Philippines and the US signed the agreement in 2014 in addition to the Mutual Defense Treaty which commits both countries to each other’s defense. 

The joint statement of the US and Philippine Defense Chiefs signed on February 2 announced the designation of four more Philippine military bases to which, under EDCA, US troops would have access, bringing the current total of designated bases to nine, and leaving one more base to be named. 

While much of media covered the basics of the announcement by citing the text of the official statements, the three accounts went beyond surface-level information, exploring different angles and perspectives to broaden public discussion. 

Rappler focuses on challenges to implementation

Given more ample online space, Sofia Tomacruz in Rappler’s February 7 report went in-depth and at-length into the history of American bases in the Philippines, acknowledging the “US colonial legacy” as one of the problems that can bar the smooth implementation of the agreement. The other factors include the ongoing tension with China, funding delays, the slow-going Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization, and balancing different Philippine political interests. 

On the issue of funding, the report recalled that it took nine years for the initial five EDCA sites to be fully funded due to bureaucratic delays on the part of the Philippine government. Tomacruz interviewed Greg Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, who explained that there were political realities to deal with such as: “disagreements with other agencies within the Philippine bureaucracy and with local government units.”

The report noted that under EDCA, the Philippines would provide the locations while the US would fund construction and operations at the designated sites. Jose Custodio, a military analyst and historian interviewed by Tomacruz said the country has to “pull its weight,” highlighting the slow pace of AFP modernization efforts and its underdeveloped capabilities. This source pointed to the failure of the Philippines as a weakness it is unable to fulfill its obligations as a partner. Custodio’s position went straight to the point: If the Philippines fails to intensify its own efforts to improve the AFP, all the country would have to offer the US is “real estate.”   

TV5 breaks down EDCA’s important provisions

Another straightforward approach clarified the significant sections of the document, aired on February 7 under the “NewsExplainED” segment of Frontline Tonight. Engaging visuals enhanced the reporter’s presentation in a brief four minutes. 

News anchor Ed Lingao identified the four locations of the newly-named EDCA sites: Camilo Osias Naval Base and Airfield in Cagayan, Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Isabela, Naval Station Gantioqui in Zambales, and an unspecified base in Palawan. The report also enumerated the activities the US is allowed to conduct on the specified sites based on terms set in 2014: construction, training, transit, refueling, temporary accommodation of personnel, and prepositioning and deployment of equipment, supplies, materiel, and humanitarian assistance. No nuclear weapons can be stored in EDCA sites. 

The report added that the US has full control over these assets and can remove these at any time. In conclusion, Lingao noted the bases designated as EDCA sites remain Philippine property which the country provides rent-free.  

Radyo Singko discusses geo-political context 

On the February 3 airing of their program “Ted Failon and DJ Chacha sa Radyo Singko,” radio co-anchors Ted Failon and Chacha Balba-Guevara talked about EDCA with Professor Richard Heydarian, an expert on international relations. 

Failon followed up on Heydarian’s Tweet on “the huge geopolitical implications” of the expansion. Heydarian traced the locations of the military bases, pointing to the close proximity of the sites (Cagayan and Isabela) to Taiwan or to disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (Zambales and Palawan), including Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands. He specified that granting greater access to US military to bases close to Taiwan could affect the Philippine position on China-Taiwan issues. 

Allaying fears of armed conflict over the Taiwan-China issue, Heydarian explained that the move to expand EDCA at this time would “act as a deterrent” rather than a provocation. He added that before resorting to war, there are “many possible steps” in which conflict can be averted and is it better to “be prepared” for these rather than dwell on the possibility of war. 

Heydarian and the co-anchors spoke mostly in conversational Filipino and a mix of English and Tagalog when necessary to ensure listeners’ understanding of the discussion. The conversation took all of 37 minutes, and provided so much to think about. 

These three accounts helped to make accessible the key points of the agreement. Current geo-political realities were discussed in terms that a layperson could easily understand. These demonstrate how journalism can connect people to experts and to views that enable them to think for themselves and decide how they stand on what may appear to be complex international issues. Well done!