Senate panel to review EDCA
Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) - May 7, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Amid calls for a review of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States, the Senate committee on national defense and security is set to conduct an inquiry on the accord.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, chairman of the committee, filed Senate Resolution 623 last Monday that would pave the way for public hearings  on EDCA ostensibly in aid of legislation.

The resolution explained that the inquiry intended to “clarify the coverage and/or contents thereof and to examine the extent of strategic military relationship between the US and the Philippines thereunder, all in the interest of promoting transparency in regards to this matter of vital importance.”

Trillanes acknowledged the clamor from the public and several legislators, including his colleagues in the Senate, for a clarificatory review or briefing on the coverage and contents of the EDCA and its operational details.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chairperson of the Senate committee on foreign relations, was among those who pushed for a review of the EDCA since the senators were not involved in the negotiations between the two governments.

Santiago believes that the EDCA is a treaty that should be sent to the Senate for concurrence before it could take effect.

Senate President Franklin Drilon has also supported the conduct of hearings to help answer questions about the EDCA.

“The appropriate committee will conduct hearings on this and will ask Malacañang to come before the Senate and justify this agreement in terms of our Constitution and our national interest. It will be principally the committee who will conduct the hearings,” Drilon said.

The executive branch has stated that the EDCA is not a treaty but an executive agreement, which would no longer require any action on the part of the Senate.

While there are senators like Santiago who may disagree with this, Trillanes agreed with the Department of National Defense (DND) that the EDCA is an executive agreement.

“As defense and security challenges have become more complex, both countries have realized the necessity of having new agreements that would further enhance their ability to face these complicated challenges jointly,” Trillanes said in his resolution.

“Just recently, in furtherance of the MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty) and the agreement regarding treatment of the United States forces visiting the Philippines (VFA), the Philippines and the US signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which establishes a framework to take our security cooperation to a higher level of engagement, reaffirm our countries’ commitment to mutual defense and security and promote regional peace and stability,” he added.

Based on the pronouncements made by the executive branch, the EDCA is designed to promote interoperability, capacity building towards the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, strengthening the AFP for external defense, maritime security, maritime domain awareness and humanitarian assistance and disaster response between the two countries.

 

House leaders react

The leadership of the House of Representatives holds the view that the Senate cannot insist on ratifying the EDCA.

“We believe that the Senate cannot insist on ratification, on asking the executive branch to submit EDCA for the senators’ review and approval,” Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II told reporters yesterday.

He said if EDCA is clearly a treaty, then it should be submitted to the Senate, since it is the treaty-ratifying chamber of Congress.

“The House has no part in approving treaties. We can just express our views,” he said.

Since Malacañang has determined that EDCA is an executive agreement, “then there is no need for the Palace to present it to the Senate,” he said.

He added that any senator or concerned citizen who does not agree with such determination could question it before the Supreme Court.

Earlier, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said EDCA does not need Senate approval.

Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano has said there are divergent views among senators on whether EDCA is a treaty or a mere executive agreement.

He said he expects senators to tackle EDCA once they hold a caucus.

Rep. Antonio Tinio of party-list group Alliance of Concerned Teachers accused the DND and Department of Foreign Affairs of misleading the public on the recently signed agreement.

He said while the two agencies have informed the nation that EDCA would be good for 10 years, it would actually be in force indefinitely unless sooner terminated.

The EDCA has so far not changed plans to move out units of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) from the Clark Freeport in Pampanga.

“From where I stand, there has so far been no change to the plans to transfer the Air Force from Clark, but we can expect that consultations will be done by the government,” PAF spokesperson Col. Miguel Okol said.

The Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) earlier announced that all units of the PAF in Clark would be moved out to other locations to give way to more investors in the freeport.

But the signing of EDCA last April has raised concerns on whether this plan would be delayed or altogether scrapped, as the US Air Force is expected to use this former US military base under the new agreement.

If the PAF moves out, Clark could no longer be classified as a Philippine military camp under EDCA.

The initial plan of the government is to move the PAF’s 410th Maintenance Wing, the Air Logistics Command and the 420th Supply Wing from Clark to Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga.

The plan includes the transfer of the Air Defense Wing to Subic Freeport, but there were reports that the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority is considering the option to lease an area to the PAF.

New buildings have already been constructed in Crow Valley in Capas, Tarlac north of Clark to accommodate the 710th Special Operations Wing, on top of an administration building and a watchtower built years ago by the 600th Air Base Wing in the site covering some 7,000 hectares.

Sources said the transfer of the rest of the air force units would depend on the availability of funds.

It is estimated that the transfer of the entire PAF based in Clark would cost about P9.5 billion.

Earlier, the Clark Development Corp., which is BCDA’s implementing arm, said that only 145 hectares of land within its jurisdiction remain available for lease to investors in Clark Freeport.

The PAF still occupies 300 hectares that have residential areas, a hotel, a golf course, a resort, a football field, among other facilities.

While Okol is confident that the government would not hamper the development of Clark, he said that national development and national security should go hand in hand.

He stressed that EDCA has nothing to do with the development of the Clark Freeport.

Okol, however, said that he is not aware of the list of military camps that would be open for temporary use by the US military under the EDCA.

Local businessman Ruperto Cruz, who founded the Pinoy Gumising Ka Movement which pushed for the development of Clark as the country’s premier international airport after the US military withdrawal form the former US air base in 1991, said he would not object to the use of Clark by the Americans.

“There’s nothing wrong with that, for as long as this will not affect development plans at Clark,” he said. With Jess Diaz, Ding Cervantes

AGREEMENT AIR AIR FORCE CLARK CLARK FREEPORT DEFENSE EDCA ENHANCED DEFENSE COOPERATION AGREEMENT PAF SENATE
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