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‘No need to review EDCA’

On Sunday, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would seek a review of EDCA, which grants American troops access to Philippine military bases. AP/Bullit Marquez, file

MANILA, Philippines - Despite President Duterte’s declaration that he would seek a review of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States, the Philippines’ top diplomat said there is no need to do so, as the Supreme Court had upheld the legality of EDCA.

“We have to respect it. The Supreme Court has just ruled that it’s legal,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay told radio station dzRH yesterday.

“We could review if there are provisions there that are irrelevant and unnecessary,” Yasay said, but indicated that this was not called for at this point.

On Sunday, President Duterte said he would seek a review of EDCA, which grants American troops access to Philippine military bases.

Yasay said he has no information about the two-year-old defense deal not bearing the signature of former president Benigno Aquino III.

“I don’t know about that …all we know was the Supreme Court ruling that it’s constitutional. That was the process done to approve EDCA and it has been complied with,” Yasay said partly in Filipino.

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Former defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador Philip Goldberg signed the EDCA at Camp Aguinaldo on April 28, 2014.

During his first press conference on July 1, Yasay said the EDCA stands and there is no move for the new administration to review the defense pact.

Militant groups’ leaders met with Duterte on June 30 after he was sworn into office and called for a review of the EDCA, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Mutual Defense Treaty.

Yasay said there is a process that should be followed insofar as a review of EDCA is concerned and that it should be mutually agreed upon by the parties.

Duterte has vowed to respect international treaties and obligations entered into by the Philippines.

The Department of Foreign Affairs had said the EDCA would benefit the Philippines, aside from strengthening the country’s defense capabilities.

Bayan backs Rody

Militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) has expressed support for President Duterte’s plans to review the EDCA.

Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said that although the Supreme Court upheld its validity, the EDCA brings back the US bases in the Philippines through the so-called agreed locations.

“The US can use Philippine facilities for free for an unspecified duration. They will also be allowed to put up permanent facilities and preposition weapons and vehicles on Philippine soil,” Reyes said, adding as an executive agreement, the EDCA can be easily terminated by the President.

“After his review, Duterte can simply serve notice to the US that the Philippines wants to terminate the pact,” he said.

Duterte’s pronouncements on EDCA followed his previous declarations that he would no longer allow the conduct of the Phl-US military exercises and the joint patrols with the US in the West Philippine Sea.

He had said he is open to forging defense ties with Russia and China and procure weapons from them, and that he wants US troops out of Mindanao.

“Duterte’s assertion of Philippine sovereignty as against US impositions is one of his most significant achievements during his first 100 days,” Reyes said.

He said the President’s actions could be considered historic and unprecedented as they challenge decades-old neo-colonial relations with the end goal of developing foreign relations based on mutual respect, cooperation and benefit.

“We would like to see the President succeed in charting a new path toward development that is not reliant on the US and in finally ridding the country of foreign troops and bases,” Reyes said.

‘Alliance with China’

Meanwhile, Duterte has said that a Chinese official suggested that he ally himself with China because the Philippines could not expect anything from the US.

“China said, shift your alliance to us. You won’t gain anything from them),” Duterte said during the opening of the MassKara Festival in Bacolod City on Sunday.

“I’m going to China to make friends with them and also with Russia,” he added.

Duterte did not identify the Chinese official he was quoting. Before making the remark, the President was talking about his meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Summit in Laos last month.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was present during the ASEAN meet but it was unclear whether he was the one being referred to by Duterte.

The President said he confided to Medvedev that the US criticized him because of his crackdown on illegal drugs.

“I met with Medvedev. I’m revealing it to you now.

“Nakiusap ako na ganito ang sitwasyon. Pinahihirapan ako nito at binababoy ako ng mga walanghiya (I told him that the situation was like this. They are making it hard for me and they are shamelessly bastardizing me),” Duterte said.

“Sabi niya ganun talaga Amerika so istorya kami. ‘Sige tulungan ka namin,’ (He said America is like that. We will help you),” he added.

Duterte reiterated that he would seek stronger ties with China and Russia, countries widely perceived to be rivals of the US.

“Tomorrow, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and (Chinese President) Xi Jinping will be my close friends,” he said in jest.

Duterte said he is not afraid if his policy and pronouncements would turn off US investors.

“You said you would take away your dollars. Go ahead, take them away,” he added.

The US, a longtime ally and treaty partner of the Philippines, has called out the Duterte administration for alleged extrajudicial killings linked to the government’s anti-drug war.

The remark irked Duterte, who viewed it as undue interference with the Philippines’ internal affairs.

Despite his tough talk, Duterte had said he would not cut ties with the US.

“We are not going to cut our umbilical cord with the countries we are allied with,” Duterte said last month.

“But certainly, we will follow an independent posture and independent foreign policy,” he added. – With Alexis Romero, Rhodina Villanueva

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