Palace welcomes signing of defense deal with US

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Monday, April 28, 2014

MALACANANG on Monday welcomed the signing of Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States, saying the deal affirms the robust and enduring strategic partnership between the two countries.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the pact opens wider opportunities for developing the Philippines' self-defense capabilities.

The agreement also strengthens maritime security and marine domain awareness at a time of evolving and rapidly changing global and regional realities, he said.

The Philippines is currently embroiled in a tensed territorial row with China over the West Philippine Sea.

Coloma also said the deal builds capacity for more effective disaster relief and rehabilitation response.

"These are vital elements in the continuing efforts of both countries to work in solidarity with the international community in attaining the shared goal of regional peace and stability," he said.

The deal, which was signed by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador to Manila Philip Goldberg, is envisioned to advance the implementation of the two countries Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and shall allow a bigger US military presence in the country for a period of 10 years.

Members of the Philippine Senate, however, are divided on the new deal.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago described it as an unfair surprise on the Senate.

"All the while, the Committee on Foreign Relations, of which I am chair, expected that any such Agreement would be signed by the two Presidents. I have argued that such an Agreement should first be submitted for concurrence to the Senate," she said in a statement.

"This contretemps does not indicate good faith on the part of the two Presidents. The use of guile in diplomacy should be limited to state-to-state situations, and should not include a situation involving only two branches of the same government," she added.

Santiago also said that the new agreement, whatever it may contain, will further antagonize China "because in effect, we consent that the Philippines should be listed under the American column, instead of the China column. If China reaches out to Russia while the Ukraine issue continues to simmer, the US will certainly call on Philippines to fulfill treaty obligations under the PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty."

Santiago further explained that the treaty is not very clear at all.

She said the Philippines executive branch apparently adopts the attitude that the Mutual Defense Treaty will oblige the US to automatically come to the aid of Philippines if attacked by China.

"I respectfully dissent. For one thing, the MDT does not define what is a 'metropolitan territory' of each state. For another thing, the MDF provides that US will come to the aid of Philippines only after the issues has been passed through US constitutional processes, meaning that it is subject to open-ended debate in the US Congress," Santiago said.

Santiago further said that the United States will come to the defense of Philippines, only if it serves the interest of the US.

If not, Santiago said the US will finesse the situation and "in that sense would be unreliable."

For his part, Senator Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV expressed belief that new agreement is in line with the Constitution.

"We have full control and authority on military activities and of any military facilities in the country; it is not permanent and; of course, that the agreement is mutually beneficial for both nations," Aquino said.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg signed on Monday the PH-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

The new accord grants US troops access to Philippine military facilities, as well as the right to construct buildings and to pre-position equipment, aircraft, and vessels.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Senate defense committee chairman, said there is no need any more for any concurrence as he explained that there are no new concepts and the agreement is also the same with the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Force Agreement.

The MDT was approved in 1951, while the VFA was ratified by the Senate almost 15 years ago.

Trillanes further explained that the all activities stated in the new agreement have been defined clearly in the VFA and MDT.

Under Article VII, Section 21 of the 1987 Constitution it was clearly stated that "no treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate."

Senators JV Ejercito and Grace Poe agreed that the best interest of the country must be the prime consideration.

But Ejercito also clarified the need for a debate in the Senate in order to make sure that everything is transparent.

Meanwhile, Poe said that although she believes the EDCA no longer needs Senate concurrence, it must still be scrutinized by the chamber.

At the same time she urged the need for the new defense pact to be published in order for the people to know everything about the new agreement.

"For the sake of transparency, we need to publish everything and let the people know everything about the EDCA.

Militant House lawmakers said the EDCA is "patently unconstitutional" and should be questioned before the Supreme Court.

House Senior Deputy minority leader Neri Colmenares said EDCA enhances the relations between the two countries by doing it without a treaty, without rent and without limits as the western power may use all the country's military facilities.

Colmenares said the new deal as "extremely lopsided" as he believed that the arrangement is worse than the Bases Treaty rejected by the Philippine Senate in September 1991.

"We all know that these can be circumvented by the fact that in reality it is the US government that is the one calling the shots and not the Aquino administration," said Colmenares.

Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate, for his part, noted the supposed prohibition of nuclear weapons.

"The US maintains a neither confirm nor deny policy if their ships or planes carry nuclear weapons. Aside from this the US military can still bring other types of weapons of mass destruction that would make us a prime target of US enemies. This is a clear threat to our country's safety and security," Zarate said.

He said the deal is deceptive and it may even allow tens of thousands of US troops or even more depending "on their so-called activities in the country."

"They already found a way to circumvent the constitutional ban on the presence of foreign troops in the country thru the Visiting Forces Agreement but now they will further maximize this and increase US troop presence in the country," Zarate stressed.

The two lawmakers are now studying the option of questioning the EDCA before the Supreme Court since they believed that it is a clear violation of the 1987 Constitution, particularly Sections 3 and 7 and possibly Section 8 of Article II.

They also added that the presence of US troops in the country will increase the tension in the region and threatens its stability.

"We do not want [the Philippines] to become another Iraq where the US troops remained even if Saddam Hussein has long been dead. We should stand against China’s bullying but we should get the support of the international community instead of the US," Colmenares said. (SDR/Camille P. Balagtas/John Carlo Cahinhinan/Sunnex)

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