The proponents of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) were hard put in defending that it is not a basing agreement, as some senators and opponents say that it is.
BY DEE AYROSO
MANILA — Opponents of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) insist that it allows US military bases in the country, as part of the “US pivot to Asia” and in violation of the Philippine Constitution.
Speaking at the hearing of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Dec. 1, anti-Edca activists said that the agreement not only requires Senate concurrence, it is also “not necessary, not beneficial and not practical.”
Government representatives argued the opposite, saying that the Edca is not a basing agreement, and need only be an executive agreement. They said that as an “implementing agreement” of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement, it helps “fill the gaps in the capabilities” of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, head of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said the Senate will issue a resolution on the Edca, since it cannot compel President Aquino to submit the agreement for its concurrence. Senators Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Pia Cayetano were present in the hearing.
“We shall issue a sense of a Senate resolution, so that we can summarize the views and the attitudes that we have heard today,” Santiago said. She said she refrained from holding a committee hearing in courtesy to the ongoing process at the SC, on a petition to declare Edca unconstitutional. The petition is deemed submitted for decision after the filing of memoranda or additional information of the two parties after the oral arguments.
She cited section 21, Article 7, which provides that “No treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by two-thirds of the Senate.”
Arguing that the Edca is already licensed by the MDT and the VFA, Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said US forces do not have “plenary ability” or “general purpose license” in the locations, unlike in former US military bases. The Edca does not involve the presence of foreign military bases, but only “the improvement of Philippine military bases and facilities,” he said.
“We have ownership, we control, we have access, but we will allow them them operational control for construction activities, which is only reasonable because they are spending their funds for purposes of the construction of runways, ports, hangars and barracks,” he said.
“Of course the US would like to exert its might and project its force within Asia, but we, in the Philippines have our own independent and more parochial concern, which is modernizing the Philippine military forces, and taking advantage of the interest of the US so we can improve our own facilities,” Hilbay said.
In reaction, Santiago said the term “agreed locations” is only a “euphemism for foreign military bases or facilities.”
“Where are these foreign military bases, troops and facilities of America? Is it here in our country or in theirs? Why don’t they keep it in their own country? Why does it have to be in ours?” Santiago said.
“Isn’t that proof that we are just part of the ‘strategic guidance?’” Santiago said, referring to the US guide book for its military warfare.
Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino said the prepositioned equipment and war materiel of the US troops will benefit both US and Philippine forces when used for joint exercises, and also for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR).
Marcos, however, pointed out that Part 3 of Article 4 of Edca gives “exclusive use” to US forces of prepositioned equipment and materiel, which means these are not just for HADR but “for war.”
“This is implying that these prepositioned materiel in the Philippine agreed locations is for war, and it has not to do with training, with increasing the Philippine armed forces capability, but merely, it is using the agreed locations in the Philippines should there be a need to prosecute a war in our part of the world,” said Marcos.
“And the prepositioning of this materiel will be clearly for the use only of the US Armed Forces. Surely that implies that this is now a US base?” said Marcos.
The senators also questioned the claim that the Edca would require the US to protect the Philippines in case of an armed attack, when US President Barack Obama himself could not give a categorical statement that the US will protect the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin insisted that the Edca serves “a deterrent” to foreign military attacks.
“How could that be a deterrent, when America already said that it will not fight for the Philippines?” Marcos said.
Dr. Roland Simbulan, vice chair of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (Cenpeg) board of directors, said there is no guarantee that the US will come to the aid of the Philippines in case of an armed attack. He cited that in 1975, US secretary of state Henry Kissingger said the Spratlys Islands are not part of the Philippine metropolitan territory as defined in the MDT.
Renato Reyes Jr, secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), said the negotiations for Edca started in 2011 after a meeting between Philippine and US officials, which resulted in the “Framework Agreement for Increased Rotational Presence and Enhanced Defense Cooperation.”
“It is clear that what triggered Edca was the Asian pivot, because the US wants to protect its interests in Asia,” Reyes said.
Reyes also put down statements that US military presence helps the AFP modernization. “If that were true, we should already be a superpower by now, after 44 yrs of the base and 15 years of the VFA.”
Simbulan said the Philippines would miss out on the economic growth of the Asian regional center, “if it allows the US Asia pivot, to remilitarize the region, instead of focusing on trade, investments.”
“We will be dragged as an accessory to US international conflicts, its wars of intervention, aggression against other countries who are not even our enemies,” said Simbulan.
The government representatives cite the “bilateral security mechanisms” provided for in Edca, which refers to the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board that will require Philippine consent before any activity is held in the agreed locations.
However, Bayan muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said that Edca also gives “control” to the US to “take appropriate measures” to protect its forces, under Article 4, sec. 3 of Edca.
“This means that the US has control, and in fact, can act if they feel that the defense of the agreed locations or their personnel is being threatened. They can take measures to meet such a supposed threat,” said Colmenares. “The US will coordinate, but the fact that they are allowed to take these appropriate measure means that they are they are the decisive factor here.”
“The Senate or Congress must at least be consulted if it’s right that the Filipino people pay the high cost of electricity, water and utilities, while the rich and powerful US is exempted from paying charges and taxes and fees from using water and electricity,” said Colmenares.