The EDCA bases


American aircraft at Clark Airbase [Photo credit: Reuters]

Did you find the choice of Philippine bases under Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) as interesting as I did? Peculiar, yet it all makes sense if we think it through.

What we learned

There are apparently five bases the US will use for staging equipment and housing troops that are rotated through the Philippines [PH, US agree on 5 ‘bases’; Inquirer]:

  • Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, Palawan
  • Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro, northwestern Mindanao
  • Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga province
  • Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province
  • Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu

No naval bases. No Clark. No Subic. Four air bases spread strategically across the Philippines. The largest military reservation in the Philippines where the Philippine Army trains, and where joint exercises are frequently undertaken.

We also learned that the better part of $50 million will be spent to get the bases ready to house American equipment and troops.

We learned that some local officials are wary about having American troops in their communities. The reservations are:

  • Security threat (presumably terrorist or Chinese attacks on the bases or communities)
  • Likely prostitution

The main benefit they see is a boost to the local economy.

Finally, we learned that leftists will protest around the bases.

What can we deduce from the selection of these bases?

Let’s bullet-point a few takeaways:

  • US Navy operations are already well-established at various naval bases in the region (Singapore, Okinawa, Japan, South Korea, Guam). The US Navy currently has a Carrier Group patrolling regularly in the South China Sea. [Navy BasesNavy aircraft carrier group moves into contested South China Sea]
  • Subic can be used for service of ships on a contract basis, as is done now.
  • The emphasis is likely on air reconnaissance, support of AFP, storm relief, and training (Magsaysay), with limited striking power.
  • The US will probably use the four air bases for housing of reconnaissance aircraft, relief aircraft (helicopters; C-130s) and perhaps a few tactical aircraft (helicopters, jets).
  • Funding is modest so will likely include barracks for pilots and service crews, an operations center, and aircraft service facility on each airbase. No major troop facilities are likely to be built on the bases, even at Magsaysay.
  • The move-in will be modest in scale in terms of numbers of people. We don’t know what equipment might be brought in (radars, aircraft, missiles, drones).

Coverage area

Here are the locations of the five bases (yellow stars, red typeface):


We can’t know exactly how the bases will be used, but the locations are perfect for providing air reconnaissance, air support of AFP, and disaster relief coverage of four major geographic areas: Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, and Palawan/Spratleys.

The Cebu location is central and could be (in our imaginations) an operational command center and/or staging area for more substantial aircraft and weaponry. The Magsaysay base would likely be dedicated to joint training and coordination practice for AFP and American forces using sophisticated weaponry.


This is a “gentle” entry by the US to establish a framework for air reconnaissance, air support, training and disaster relief. It does not entail the presence of thousands of US troops as we see in Japan and South Korea. This approach is likely justified by multiple and mutual benefits: specific tactical needs (coverage areas; training facilities), modest funding requirement, not upsetting Filipinos with an overbearing presence, and not upsetting China with a warlike presence.

A lot of bang for the buck . . .

A good foundation that can be scaled according to need as determined by two nations working in partnership.


59 Responses to “The EDCA bases”
  1. NHerrera says:

    And a “gentle” introduction to the purpose and choice of the four air bases and one army base.

  2. Vicara says:

    The C-130 planes are massive. Right after Yolanda hit, the U.S. government used them to deliver humanitarian relief goods to Tacloban and other hard-hit areas for several days after the typhoon. On their return flights they transported–landing with Philippine government clearance in Villamor Air Base–the badly injured and others in urgent need of medical treatment, who had made their way to different airports in Yolanda-affected areas where the AFP and others had cleared the runways. About 150 or more Filipino civilians were ferried to Villamor on each C-130 flight. I was a volunteer who helped ferry some of these Yolanda survivors by car to relatives, etc., so I saw some of the U.S. C-130s land.

    • Joe America says:

      Well, thanks to you for helping, Vicara. Not enough people know of all the good work that was done by so many to help after that storm. It got buried under the complaints of the hurting. I hope that the US stages more C-130’s here and they are positioned out of the storm track, but close enough to provide quick relief. With four air bases, there is a lot of flexibility to do that.

    • karlgarcia says:

      Vicara,that is very nice of you

    • edgar lores says:

      Vicara, thank you.

    • chempo says:

      We have a hero in our midst.

      • Vicara says:

        HeroES. Frustrated wannabe heroes, to be precise: At one point there were more volunteer drivers than there were typhoon survivors disembarking and needing a ride. So we just sat in the Villamor parking lot, eating Chippy.

        The actual heroes, who didn’t get featured much (because as Joe said, everyone was into assigning blame) were those who went back and forth all the way to Leyte and the other stricken areas without counting, in order to provide relief. Church groups; relatives of Leytenos; bunches of doctors and nurses who just got on boats and vans and said, let’s go; and teams flown in by military and humanitarian organizations from more than 14 countries. (For whom the Mactan airbase now included in EDCA was the logistics hub, also under the aegis of the AFP.) They included a small medical team from the Japanese military. One wonders what was going on in their heads while they were in Leyte, where upwards of 30,000 Japanese soldiers had died in WWII. Yesterday’s enemy is today’s ally in the battle against natural disasters.

  3. Of the five, I think Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base is the only one which was a former US Air Force base. The Cebu International Airport & the PAF base share a runway which partly includes the original runway of the former USAF base.

  4. Same is true for Basa Air base which. was built before WWII by the US Army Air Corps and was taken over by the USAF in 1945. So, of the 5 EDCA bases, 2 were originally built with US taxpayer’s money. Definitely, more bang for the buck.

  5. sonny says:

    Current shipping lanes both domestic and international are well covered by the strategic positioning of the bases. All bases are convertible to airbases. All friendly naval vessels above and under water are unencumbered. All manpower for land defense and support can be trained at will. Military infrastructure can be resuscitated from WW2 Eight and Sixth Army campaign maps. All maritime charts surrounding the archipelago can be dusted clean from US Geodetic archives. Teddy Roosevelt and A.T. Mahan are both smiling. More so also William H Taft and Francis B Harrison.

    (Just thinking.) 🙂

    • Joe America says:

      Ummm, sonny, I don’t think they need those old army paper charts and maps. It’s all on an electronic screen they swipe with a stroke of the finger. Just sayin’ . . . 🙂

      • sonny says:

        As you were then, Teddy. Back to your books, Alfred. 🙂

      • sonny says:

        Joe, there is always the now and tomorrow. One only has to take in the visuals and narratives of a painful past to drive home national values and takeaways and spread to whomever will take heart. The Filipino and American lives that were expended under the cruelest of circumstances cannot nor should not be buried into oblivion. My point, feeble as it may be, is not useless. Those charts and campaign maps can still be used in the classrooms of the would-be warriors of the PMA and the academic war colleges of the islands and other groups. With my layman’s naivete I see in the campaign maps and pictorials places in the Visayas & Mindanao, the leeward topography of maybe a new resource such as the nascent and under-resourced native Coast Guard detachments that should pepper the archipelago in peace and war if only as reminders that the national call of dire need is not that far away.

        • Joe America says:

          Yes, sonny. Sorry my flippant mood got the best of my brain. Yes, I like old maps myself, and would do a collection of original signed books if I had the money. History, with dates and events, I never got acquainted with because when it was taught, I did not see a “context”, being young and easily bored. I take back my comment and sign on to yours.

    • edgar lores says:

      Now all we need is General MacArthur. Oh, wait, Bill in Oz says we better have Admiral Nimitz.

      The new Commanding General of the Philippine Air Force is Lt. Gen. Edgar R Fallorina. He was appointed just this March. (I just put that in because I like the name. I mean Fallorina. It has no meaning.)

      • karlgarcia says:

        Lt Gen Edgar Lores. 🙂

      • Bill in Oz says:

        Ummmm Edgar..MacArthur was an army general.And he lost almost all his planes on day 1 of WW2 when he suffered a complete meltdown for 7-8 hours. Nimitz was a submariner naval man but with a good appreciation of the role of the air force.

        As for the armed forces of the Philippines.. I suggest it is strategic competency at the political level which is now the key…

  6. Actually, all the PAF air bases to be used for EDCA (4) were originally built with US taxpayer’s money.

  7. rubjub says:

    Welcome EDCA.I wish for the USA to offer and build the 6th base in the northern tip of Luzon to help watch foreign poachers & protect local fishermen. US forces can have R&R at nearby Taiwan if the local government will not allow.

    • Joe America says:

      Yes, rubjub. I notice that the Mindanao location also looks north/west, and not south. So the channels on north and south are open. Maybe that’s where the subs are stalking . . . 🙂

  8. edgar lores says:

    Despite my stance that EDCA should have been ratified by the Senate, I feel a certain relief in the US presence. China will not be so bold now. I am certain a lot of Filipinos share my ease.

  9. Myrna Alcala says:

    JoeAm, thanks for your article which ease my mind quite a bit, knowing that somehow the presence of EDCA in my puny country may act as a deterrent against that behemoth goon, persisting to occupy a portion of our territory in the West Philippine Sea.

  10. xeryk says:

    two thumbs up, way way high!

  11. Jonathan says:

    Biggest advantage of the four bases is that they’re all quite discreet. If the US and the Philippines want to keep things quiet, they can do so at these places (except Mactan). Doing EDCA activity at Subic and Clark would be displaying it for the world to see, which may not always be desired.

  12. Those new Ospreys have pretty good coverage, Joe— so expect Cebu & Cagayan de Oro (Mt. Katanglad) to be joined at the hip.

    I’m hoping they’ll eventually house US Marines at the tip of Palawan and a couple of islands around Tawi-Tawi (Samas and Tausugs love Americans, despised northerners, so Americans as go-betweens will work out nicely)— but I think after Mamasapano, it’s hands-off Mindanao for a long time (China focus only, a very light hand in Counter-terrorism).

    So the China focus for southern tip of Palawan and Tawi-Tawi is Sabah. Aside from all the smuggling, people & goods, terrorism stuff, China is busy building there.

    I think you should write an article urging the US Navy to set up shop in the east, to help Filipinos explore the Philippine Sea. Exploration, R & D, are US Navy mandates.

  13. Arikdik says:

    Bakit walang base sa Norte? They should put one base in the North to help monitor illegal Taiwanese Fishermen from coming in to Batanes.

  14. NHerrera says:

    Through the years —

    through Pearl Harbor, WW I and WW II, the Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam War, 9/11, and more recently the more recent Middle East Experience, the looming WPS/ China Sea Conflict, starting from some years back, the world military history, the US-Philippine relation and history, etc

    — the US must have in its Archives a rich source of Methodology, what to avoid, to optimize its resources and plans with probable assistance of the likes of Rand Corporation. The present conflict is of course complicated by the dilemma that the opponent is not only an opponent but a friend in the area of economy.

    One advantage of the US perhaps is that aside from items enumerated above is its global reach, and the US is not hampered by a mindset of mainly a top down approach as in the still basically a Communist Country like China. A creative mind set even in military affairs of the US, to my mind, is a resource. A creative mind set in a Chinese Military — is that an oxymoron? Excuse me for my ignorance in this matter.

    • NHerrera says:

      A counter to the post above: cyber expertise of which China is no slouch.

      • Joe America says:

        Nice debate you are having with yourself.

        If I were Jack Ryan (see Tom Clancy books), I’d for sure anticipate that China will do nothing according to Western ideals or objectives, and any action has to end up with China punishing herself. Confrontation is spun by China as Chinese being victimized and is used to rally the citizens to hate anyone who is not Chinese. I’d tell you what I mean, but it is top top secret, so deeply deeply covered that I don’t even know what it is.

    • “One advantage of the US perhaps is that aside from items enumerated above is its global reach, and the US is not hampered by a mindset of mainly a top down approach as in the still basically a Communist Country like China. A creative mind set even in military affairs of the US, to my mind, is a resource.”

      Totally agree with this, NH.

      Paul Baran from RAND did come up with this internet network we now use, And the teams of teams concept is being used in the US military, but bureaucracies being what they are, all this can still retrograde. 😦 But let’s hope Gen. McChrystal, as the Paul Baran of the US military, sticks.

      But if you’re a fan of Star-Trek, the Borgs were formidable.

  15. DAgimas says:

    the local communities should welcome the economic benefits they bring. just look at the businesses generated by Filipino soldiers in local camps. they may not be paid just like the GI Joes but their salaries make the area around these camps vibrant.

    if I were the govt, I will ask for the stationing of whole armies, air force or naval forces. just look at Hawaii or san diego. their economy is based on this military spending. of course it helps that a lot of tourists visit them but its undeniable how much income these bases bring

    don’t mistake me as an amboy, no.i love the Philippines like Bonifacio and Rizal but I also see mutual benefits in them

    • Joe America says:

      In other words, “use” the installations for economic gain as well as defense purposes. Makes sense if one accepts that the character of local communities changes to one of “military town”, with associated entertainment and personal services. And with some statistically small likelihood of misbehavior with huge front-page potential, and the associated angers that headlines provoke. Without doubt, American dollars would flow in, supporting jobs.

      • DAgimas says:

        joe, try entering Crame, Aguinaldo or Bonifacio, except for the parade grounds, they are indistinguishable from small cities now.

      • Hawaii & San Diego aren’t per se “military towns”, there’s a bunch of actual military towns in the South and the Mid-West, and they’re full of back-water types, strip joints, tattoo parlours, bars, etc.

        I think Olongapo and Angeles were military towns back then.

        So be careful with the whole military town wish, the Philippine gov’t and US Dept of State should work overtime to ensure all the right folks are participating in these bases being set-up, if (as DAgimas suggested) the model is Hawaii & SD,

        then bring in tourism, schools, new development, because those are the other facets that contribute to these town’s progress— Oahu and SD aren’t just military towns, there are a lot of contributors that make for a vibrant community.

        Cebu and Cagayan de Oro I think can handle and convert American presence to make a positive. in Palawan though, every effort should be made to protect it from over-development (same with Fort Magsaysay, and its surroundings)– pay close attention to the governor there.

        Folks that’ll be stationed in Basa AB can split their time in Angeles and Olongapo, ensuring a small footprint.

        • DAgimas says:

          no, they could not replicate San Diego and Hawaii (Oahu). these places host whole commands. the Philippine installations will probably host a thousand soldiers or airmen or marines divided by 5 so the footprint is minimal but still boon to the communities that will host them.

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