As the biggest Balikatan in history looms, urban poor group Kadamay raises concerns over the social costs of the lopsided Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and the recent addition of four more US military bases in Cagayan and Palawan, arguing that the agreement only benefits the US political and military interests while Filipino workers and local communities bear the brunt of the costs.
“The government says that local communities will benefit from the placement of US military bases because the infrastructure projects they will build will supposedly create many jobs. This seems to raise a lot of red flags. What kind and quality of jobs are these?” said Mimi Doringo, Kadamay National Secretary General.
The Department of National Defense (DND) claims that under the EDCA, local communities will benefit from a surge in economic activities, especially in infrastructure development “through the provision of jobs and other economic opportunities in the construction activities in the Agreed Locations and procurement of local goods and supplies by the US military and personnel.”
However, Kadamay said that the EDCA’s only “benefit” for Filipinos may only be as a source of cheap labor. US military contractors frequently outsource low-paying jobs to third-party recruitment agencies in order to increase their profits, which often leads to precarious working conditions within US military bases and makes workers more susceptible to labor rights violations.
In addition, the group also condemned the agreement for offering US troops and contractors tax-free access to public utilities, such as water and electricity, as well as rent-free access to the “agreed locations,” which the group argues will come at the expense of local Filipino communities.
“The housing project that Marcos Jr. is boasting about, which he claims will address the housing backlog, has a fee, and there is no certainty whether it will be affordable, while American troops have free use of facilities, services, and land in the Philippines. This exposes the true face of EDCA — that it is not a fair agreement and the Filipino people are at a clear disadvantage,” added Doringo.
Moreover, Kadamay said that increased US military presence and operation will likely have a detrimental impact on the livelihood of local communities where the EDCA agreed locations will be established. Past Balikatan military drills have disrupted local livelihoods such as small fishers, who have been displaced during naval exercises conducted by US and Filipino troops.
Furthermore, according to Kadamay, the government will also likely acquire more lands or areas to build military facilities to satisfy Marcos Jr’s reliance on US interests, resulting in the displacement of more local communities. The group said that the EDCA not only exploits Filipino workers and local communities but also perpetuates a system of inequality, in which the interests of the US military and private American contractors take precedence over the welfare of the local communities.
“The Philippines should not be made a pawn in the war games of the US and China, or any imperialist country. Furthermore, the government of the Philippines should not sell the people and the country’s sovereignty. The government should push for an independent foreign policy to protect the country’s sovereignty and the livelihood of Filipinos from exploitative foreigners. If the government truly wants to improve the lives of Filipinos, it should prioritize raising wages for workers and ending contractualization instead of being subservient to the interests of imperialists packaged as “development,” said Doringo.