New defense deal with U.S. needs Senate concurrence, opponents say
CenPEG position paper read at Senate foreign relations committee hearing
Dec. 4, 2014
The Philippine Senate’s foreign relations committee, on Dec. 1, 2014, was set to file a resolution expressing the upper legislative chamber’s “disappointment” over the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) without Senate concurrence.
This was announced by the foreign relations chair, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, at a press briefing after the committee’s hearing on the controversial EDCA in aid of legislation. EDCA was signed by Philip Goldberg, U.S. ambassador to Manila, and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on April 28, 2014, just hours before the state visit of U.S. President Barack Obama in Manila.
Supporters of EDCA, led by President Benigno S. Aquino II, and the defense and foreign secretaries said the agreement will serve as a deterrent against Chinese “incursions” on Philippine-claimed territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) with the U.S. committed to defend the country.
Its opponents say, however, that the agreement violates the country’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity and makes Philippine laws toothless against crimes committed by U.S. forces. Others say neither the Mutual Defense Treaty (1951) – said to be the mother treaty of EDCA – nor the new agreement has a specific provision to underscore automatic U.S. defense commitments or retaliation in case of an attack on the Philippines by a foreign country.
At the Senate hearing, Senator Santiago said that unlike the U.S.’ explicit defense commitment to Japan in its territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku (Diaoyu) rock islands in East China Sea, Mr. Obama had publicly denied the notion that America will help defend the Philippines in a war against Beijing.
Invited by the Senate committee as resource group, the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) presented its position paper on EDCA saying that the “executive agreement” needed the concurrence of the Senate. In his presentation, CenPEG Vice Chair Prof. Roland G. Simbulan who wrote and read the position paper (click here to download the position paper), said:
“How can EDCA be a mere implementing executive agreement when it includes specific new provisions that rightfully belong to a new treaty? We should not let this trick pass. For this may be used as a precedent for future controversial executive agreements which in fact are new treaties on the grounds that they are mere implementing agreements of previous treaties…It is clear that U.S. troops are to be deployed and U.S. military facilities will be constructed – with the assistance of U.S. defense contractors - INSIDE Philippine military camps in any part of the country. From the provisions of EDCA, even the jurisdiction of national and international courts will have to be waived in relation to disputes arising from the implementation of EDCA. These are just some provisions that rightfully
belong to a new treaty requiring the concurrence of the Senate.”
Simbulan added that the Philippines is better off promoting its economic interests in cooperation with neighbor countries instead of allowing itself dragged into the U.S.’ policy of armed intervention like its Asia pivot strategy.
Defending the EDCA at the Senate, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the agreement is beneficial for the modernization of the armed forces by “filling up the gaps in the capability, training, equipment, and facilities.”
Reacting, Renato Reyes, secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance), said if the EDCA and other military treaties were really for the modernization of the Philippine armed forces, “then our military capacity should already be a global force to be reckoned with after 40 plus years of Philippine-U.S. military partnership.”
Refuting U.S. claims that EDCA would enhance its humanitarian aid to the Filipinos, Reyes said America is the only country that asked for a military agreement before giving aid to the Philippines as exemplified in the November 2013 Yolanda (Haiyan) disaster.
Prof. Merlin Magallona, former dean of the University of the Philippines’ college of law, said EDCA violates Article III of the UN Charter – a supremacy clause – which provides that in cases of armed conflict, UN obligations shall prevail. Superseding the UN Charter, the MDT and EDCA apply the Pentagon’s unilateral strategic objectives in Asia, Magallona said.
Law professor Harry Roque debunked the claim that EDCA implements the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which was signed by the two countries in 1998. While VFA only covers U.S. military visits and joint military exercises, he said, EDCA also covers troops, bases, and facilities and provides immunity to U.S. troops from domestic jurisdiction.
Bayan Muna’s Rep. Neri Colmenares reiterated that EDCA was concluded as a treaty which needs Senate ratification. EDCA provides the U.S. full, virtual control of its facilities in the Philippines – “a unique contractual obligation with only one party in power.”
Rene Saguisag, a former senator, asked that a resolution is passed to reassert the right of the Senate to examine the EDCA.
Other Senate committee members present at the hearing were: Sens. Sonny Angara, Pia Cayetano, and Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., vice chairman. CenPEG News