Drilon urges opposing parties on EDCA to bring matter to SC

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

SENATE President Franklin Drilon advised critics of the recently signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States to bring their concerns to the Supreme Court (SC).

"It would be wise to bring up to the Supreme Court the debate on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), for it is only the high court that can resolve with finality if the EDCA is a treaty that requires the concurrence of the Senate, or an executive agreement which the executive has the power under the Constitution to execute and implement," said Drilon.

The Senate leader's recommendations came after several quarters, including lawmakers, have expressed apprehension over the lack of congressional involvement in the agreement, which was signed last April 28 during the two-day Philippine visit of United States President Barack Obama.


"There are various views. Marami po ang nagsasabi na ilegal kapag hinde, marami ang nagsasabi na hinde na kailangan. Sa akin po, dalhin na nila sa Korte Suprema. Whether this is a treaty or a document that would require concurrence or ratification of the Senate, or an executive agreement, that will have to be decided by the Supreme Court," he said.

"So I urge everyone to go the Supreme Court and finally decide whether this is a treaty which would require ratification by the Senate, or an executive agreement which will be implemented by a mere signature of the executive branch," Drilon said.

Drilon, a former executive and justice secretary, acknowledged the concerns about the EDCA's conformity to the 1987 Constitution as "legitimate and valid," and suggested that the EDCA be lodged at the SC, who will have the power to determine if the agreement must be first ratified as a treaty in Senate before it can be implemented.

The Senate President said those opposing EDCA has the right to air their side under a democratic ruling but the court is the only one that can interpret the law.

"I urge everyone who opposed EDCA to go the Supreme Court, which is the only body that could finally decide whether this is a treaty which would require ratification by the Senate, or an executive agreement which will be implemented by a mere signature of the executive branch," he said, adding that the SC is the "ultimate arbiter" in this issue.

He said it depends on the executive branch if it thinks the Senate concurrence is needed before the agreement is implemented. But he said the Senate can only act on it officially if executive branch decides to submit the document to the upper chamber.

"If the document is not sent to us, then we have nothing to ratify officially. So I would go back to my suggestion: bring it to the Supreme Court, who is the ultimate arbiter whether this is a treaty or an executive agreement," said Drilon.

Drilon refused to say his definite position on the issue but explained that the Palace has the legal right to negotiate and it is their principal function under the law.

"That is the nature of the negotiations. You can not expose your positions publicly when you have to negotiate. The participation of the Senate was in the ratification of the document," he added.

Senators Aquilino Pimentel III, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, Antonio Trillanes IV, expressed belief that there is no need any more to ratify the EDCA in the Senate.

Villar put to task her colleague, Trillanes, in overseeing the need or lack thereof, of any deliberations in the Senate on the need for the chamber's concurrence on EDCA, being the chairman of the committee on national defense and security.

"They are always clear there that it cannot violate the Constitution, which is what is always being reported in agreement that nothing will violate the Constitution," she added.

Trillanes himself said on Monday that EDCA need not have the concurrence of the Senate since it is "but an implementing guideline of the MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty) and the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) and there are no new concepts introduced to make it an entirely different treaty."

"The Senate committee on national defense and security has been thoroughly briefed at every step of the negotiations for the EDCA. We have to understand that while the agreement per se would be made public, the negotiations cannot be discussed publicly since we are dealing with security matters," Trillanes said in a text message to reporters, adding that "anybody can raise the issue to the Supreme Court for their disposition."

In a statement, Pimentel said the EDCA, signed last Monday hours before President Barack Obama's arrival, "would help ensure the enforcement of international law in the region."

"The pact covers a full range of defense cooperation and increased rotational presence of US troops, which would particularly enhance regional collective responsibility in controlling transnational crimes such as illegal drugs and human trafficking, among others," he said.

"This would boost our drive against illegal drugs; we've been alarmed by the increasing presence of foreign nationals that have established their operation in the Philippines," he added.

EDCA article requires the Philippine government to assist US forces in facilitating their deployment to local military camps "when requested."

"When requested, the Designated Authority of the Philippines shall assist in facilitating transit or temporary access by United States forces to public land and facilities (including roads, ports and airfields), including those owned or controlled by local governments, and to other land facilities (including roads, ports and airfields)," it stated.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, for her part, said EDCA matter should be scrutinized by the Senate.

She said the agreement in her interpretation violates the Constitution and this needs immediate review.

Santiago said the matter should be reviewed by the Supreme Court to avoid confusion, saying the legality of the matter must be resolved immediately before its implementation. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

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