On April 17, Philippine defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana and U.S. ambassador Sung Kim took part in a groundbreaking ceremony for the first official construction project under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The project to build a warehouse for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief supplies at Cesar Basa Air Base in Pampanga Province comes more than four years after the two sides inked EDCA, and two years after the Philippine Supreme Court affirmed its constitutionality. The ceremony was at once an important milestone, and a sobering reminder of how far short of expectations EDCA has fallen. If implementation of the agreement continues at this rate, the national interests of both the Philippines and the United States will suffer. Without a fully implemented EDCA, the Philippines will likely lose its maritime rights in the South China Sea, either by force or the threat of force from China, and the United States will be seen as a paper tiger unable to protect its allies or defend freedom of the seas.
The Reasons for EDCA
Manila and Washington signed EDCA in 2014 as a vehicle to modernize the U.S.-Philippine alliance to better meet shared challenges In particular, the agreement was meant to help address growing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and natural disasters in the Philippines, which are projected to become more frequent and more destructive with a changing climate. Less than two years before, China had seized control of Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines, prompting Manila to file its landmark case against Beijing’s claims before a tribunal at The Hague. In late 2013, the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Yolanda, or Haiyan—the strongest storm on record to make landfall in the country. The U.S. military’s rapid response proved critical in delivering supplies and evacuating the injured from affected areas, and reminded both sides of the public goods that the alliance could offer.