“Philippine sovereignty, as well as the rights and dignity of its citizens suffered immensely during the 17 years of operation of the VFA. Let us assert our sovereignty and call for the total abrogation of this agreement.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Anti-US bases activists have found a feisty ally in their battle against the return of US military bases in the country, as Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago disagreed with the Supreme Court ruling on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca), and reiterated her call on fellow senators to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
The senator said the country has “suffered immensely” under VFA, as she criticized both the Supreme Court and President Aquino for defying the Constitution which prohibits the presence of foreign military troops and facilities.
“Philippine sovereignty, as well as the rights and dignity of its citizens suffered immensely during the 17 years of operation of the VFA. Let us assert our sovereignty and call for the total abrogation of this agreement,” said Defensor-Santiago, in a statement posted on her website on Jan. 17.
Santiago, who is also running in this year’s elections, was the first among presidential candidates to make a strong stand on Edca after the SC came out with its decision.
The Supreme Court ruled that Edca is only an implementing agreement of the VFA and the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and thus falls within presidential prerogative powers not requiring Senate concurrence.
Santiago, the chairperson of the Senate committee on foreign relations, stood by a resolution which she and 14 other senators signed and submitted to the SC in November last year expressing that Edca requires concurrence of two-thirds of the Senate to be valid.
She called the Jan. 12 Supreme Court ruling as “flawed,” because she said both the VFA and Edca fall under the “prohibited treaties” under Article 18, section 25 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.
Not recognized as treaty by US
She said both the VFA and the Edca failed in the three requirements of the Charter.
“The Constitution is clear that if an agreement pertains to foreign military bases, troops, or facilities, it must be (1) in the form of a treaty, (2) concurred in by the Senate, and (3) recognized as a treaty by the other contracting state,” Santiago said.
The Edca failed in the first two requirements, while the VFA failed in the third, because it was not considered a treaty by the US, she said. Santiago said the VFA was submitted to the American Senate only to comply with the Case-Zablocki Act, which requires the U.S. State Department to transmit to the U.S. Senate agreements not recognized as treaties.
This was ignored by the Supreme Court in 2009, when it declared VFA as valid, despite not having the consent of the US Senate, she said.
Santiago also said the Constitution does not recognize the concept of “implementing treaty,” but rather, gives exclusive powers of treaty-making to the Senate. She cited Article 7, Section 21, that says “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.”
“Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the VFA is a valid treaty and that the Edca is its implementing agreement, the Constitution does not say that Senate concurrence for a ‘mother treaty’ extends to the children,” Santiago said.
“The Supreme Court contradicts the power of the Senate. The Constitution clearly states that without Senate concurrence, no treaty can become law. Now, the Court is saying that the executive may call agreements by another name in order to bypass the Senate,” she said.
She said President Aquino “could have cured the Edca of constitutional infirmity” by submitting it for Senate approval.
“But instead of abiding by the Constitution he has sworn to protect, the President openly defied it by striking a deal concerning foreign bases, troops, or facilities through an executive agreement,” Santiago said.
Dependence on America
Santiago said that the Senate “has no choice but to abide” by the high court decision but called on her fellow senators to renegotiate or abrogate the VFA.
She said the VFA and Edca create military dependence on America. “It may be argued that because of the VFA, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has not felt the need to modernize sufficiently,” Santiago said.
She also said that US military presence is not an assurance that America will aid the Philippines against Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea.
Santiago compared statements made by US President Barack Obama in his 2014 visits to the country and in Japan. While Obama categorically declared that the US will defend the Japanese claim over the Senkaku islands, by contrast, in the Philippines, he said the US “will not have a position in regard to the disputed territories in the South China Sea.”
Progressive groups had earlier lambasted the SC ruling, calling it a “re-dedication of the Philippines to the US,” and warning of dire impact of the return of US military bases.
“The Edca ruling not only undermines our sovereignty – it also ensures that the Philippines will forever be beholden to the claws of the US, and in turn, to Washington’s interests,” said Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon.
“In the final analysis, Edca perpetuates our subservience to the US – through ensuring increased US military presence, even inside our own military camps. In exchange of allowing our nation to be used as a command post for US domination in the Asia-Pacific, we receive petty hand-me-down equipment and nothing more,” Ridon said.
Salvador France, Pamalakaya vice-chairperson, said that instead of giving protection in the West Philippine Sea, American troops will even be a hazard to the fisherfolk who had already been restricted by Chinese military vessels.
“With the US military presence in the country, fisherfolk’s lives and livelihoods are at stake,” France said in a statement. He cited an incident in October 2014 when two fishing boats sank after being rammed by a US guided missile destroyer in Subic Bay.
“Three Filipino fishermen were injured and their fishing boats capsized and badly damaged. This incident has brought fear and intimidation to the fisherfolk to return to their livelihoods again,” France said.
He said the conduct of PH-US war games also imposed fishing bans and restricted the livelihood of Filipino fisherfolk. In Oyster Bay, in Palawan, where a Philippine Navy station underwent repairs as one of the proposed “agreed locations” under Edca, fisherfolk were not allowed within the vicinity of the waters.
“The Edca is a complete threat to our national security and sovereignty. This will bring terror and extreme danger to the lives and livelihoods of the Filipino people; thus, it deserves a nationwide defiance in all forms to prevent those American mercenaries commit heinous crimes to our country again.” France said.