Miriam: Senate must look at PH-US deal

Posted at 04/29/14 5:23 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago wants the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) submitted to the Senate for review.

Administration officials say the EDCA is not a treaty and therefore needs no Senate approval.

But officials say they are prepared to brief lawmakers about the deal.

The Senate committee on foreign relations chairman said she has no way of knowing if the agreement would be good for the Philippines since the Senate has not been furnished any of the details.

“Definitely 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,” she said.

Santiago said she was surprised that Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador Philip Goldberg signed the EDCA, not President Aquino and US President Barack Obama.

“This is an unfair surprise on the Senate which, under the Constitution, shares the treaty-making power with the President,” she said. “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.”

Santiago said it does not indicate good faith on the part of Aquino and Obama.

“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 said.

Santiago said she sees no guarantee that the US military would come to the aid of the Philippines if the tension with China escalates into an armed conflict despite the existence of a Mutual Defense Treaty and now the EDCA.

“In case of conflict, the US will come to the defense of the Philippines, only if it serves the interest of the US,” she said. “If not, the US will finesse the situation and in that sense would be unreliable. If China reaches out to Russia while the Ukraine issue continues to simmer, the US will certainly call on the Philippines to fulfill treaty obligation under the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty.”

Santiago said she sees three possible constitutional issues that might arise from the signing of EDCA.

The Constitution requires that foreign military bases, troops or facilities would not be allowed except under a treaty that the Senate has duly concurred in, and that EDCA being a treaty would only be valid and effective after two-thirds of senators concur.

Santiago said it would be a case of interpreting the Constitution to accommodate the military program of a foreign state. “That eventuality defies all principles of constitutional supremacy,” she said.

The Philippine and US governments described EDCA as an executive agreement because it is vague on whether the Constitution would be followed, Santiago said.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, for his part, believes EDCA is not a treaty and would no longer need concurrence of the Senate.

“EDCA is but an implementing guideline of the Mutual Defense Treaty and Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and there are no new concepts introduced to make it an entirely different treaty,” he said.

Sen. Grace Poe said no action from the Senate is needed for EDCA because it is within the scope of the VFA.

“I feel that we need it at this time that we are asserting our sovereignty and guarding our territory,” she said.

Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon said the constitutional ban on foreign military bases is not absolute. “We need it (EDCA) to protect our territorial interests in the West Philippine Sea in the face of the creeping aggression from the Chinese,” he said.

EDCA is complementary to the 1949 military assistance agreement, the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, and the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement, he added.

The House of Representatives committee on national defense and security chairman said the Senate will determine whether EDCA would need ratification and the House will check whether public funds need to be appropriated to implement the pact.

“The House will have to step in if public funds are involved, for instance the structures or expenses that need to be done to implement the agreement,” he said.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said the executive branch must disclose to Congress the contents of EDCA to make sure that it benefits the national interest and does not violate Philippine laws.

“There is a need to strengthen our ties with our military allies in the light of the growing tension in the West Philippine Sea with China,” he said.

Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas said EDCA is necessary to ensure that the country’s sovereign interests in the West Philippine Sea are continuously protected. “The mere presence of the US military in the Philippines can be considered already as a deterrent against any armed offensive in our territories now being the object of China’s land grabbing binge,” he said.

EDCA is a simple expansion of the Mutual Defense Treaty and may no longer require the ratification of Congress, Treñas said.

Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said the administration missed a golden opportunity to secure the country’s sovereignty and national interest from the superpower games between the US and China.

“We believe that, with the signing of this agreement, the very sovereignty that the government hopes to secure from our regional adversary was surrendered to an old and more scheming global power. This agreement also severely undermined Philippine territorial integrity beyond the West Philippine Sea,” he said.

Aquino cautioned on talks with Obama

Archbishop of Iloilo Angel Lagdameo believes President Aquino must exercise caution in discussing with US President Barack Obama US military bases in the country.

“We give President Obama our Filipino hospitality,” he said. “We pray that they will be prudent about deciding to have a US military presence.”

Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel, South Cotabato opposes the signing of the EDCA. “Poverty is the priority, not military alliance,” he said. “Peace is based on truth, justice, love and freedom. Before the Visiting Forces Agreement, now expanded VFA. Later mobile US military bases. Finally, the Constitution will be revised to allow permanent US military bases.”

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) also opposes an agreement allowing more US troops, aircraft and ships in Philippine military camps. “We understand that the new agreement is in line with US military, economic and political influence and interest in the Asian region,” the NCCP said. “The military agenda of the US is closely tied to its economic agenda of extracting resources and wealth from the region and ensuring trade relationships. These are not to the best interest of the less developed countries.