Senators want say on Philippines-US defense pact

Marvin Sy - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Senators approved a resolution saying the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States is a treaty that must be sent to the Senate for concurrence under the Constitution.

Fourteen senators voted to approve Senate Resolution 1414 authored and sponsored by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago during yesterday’s plenary session.

Apart from Santiago, the other senators who voted for approval of the resolution were Juan Edgardo Angara, Nancy Binay, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Francis Escudero, Teofisto Guingona III, Manuel Lapid, Loren Legarda, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Sergio Osmeña III, Aquilino Pimentel III, Grace Poe, Cynthia Villar and Ralph Recto.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV voted against the resolution while Senate President Franklin Drilon and Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile abstained.

Senators Pia Cayetano and Paolo Benigno Aquino IV arrived after the voting and manifested into record their votes in favor and abstention, respectively.

The position taken by the Senate is contrary to the stand of the executive department that EDCA is merely an executive agreement and would not have to go through the Senate for concurrence.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin signed the EDCA on behalf of the Philippine government while US Ambassador Philip Goldberg signed for Washington.

Santiago said the resolution deals with constitutional law and “the strong sense of the Senate that it embodies is a confirmation of its supremacy over any self-serving speculation that is forced subjectively on the Constitution.”

Under Article VII Section 21 of the Constitution, “No treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all members of the Senate.”

Citing the provision of the Constitution, Santiago argued EDCA is “a treaty prohibited under the Constitution.”

“This is the only provision of the fundamental law that determines the validity and effectiveness of treaties as law of the land. Other than concurrence of the Senate, no authority expressly transforms a treaty into law,” Santiago said in her sponsorship speech.

To further emphasize the position that the EDCA is a treaty, Santiago cited its text and the arguments made by the Solicitor General, in behalf of the executive department, which she said clearly describes the EDCA in the nature of foreign military bases, troops or facilities.

Santiago cited Article 18 Section 25 of the Constitution, which states that “foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate… and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”

“The textual composition of EDCA in itself evidences that it belongs to the category of prohibited treaty, namely, it is a treaty of foreign military bases, troops, or facilities without the concurrence of the Senate,” Santiago said.

“That such a prohibited ‘treaty’ has been concluded by the Executive Department as an executive agreement testifies to its inherently prohibitory nature under the Constitution, by reason of EDCA’s substantive provisions dealing with the establishment, location, stationing of the United States military forces and storage of military facilities in Philippine territory,” she added.

“In defiance of the Constitution, Article 18, Section 25, EDCA is without question a prohibited treaty of foreign military bases, troops, or facilities concluded in the absence of Senate concurrence,” she said.

Two petitions have been brought before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the EDCA.

A decision is expected soon while Santiago wanted Senate Resolution 1414 furnished to the high court.

Santiago said she hopes the Supreme Court will consider the strong statement from the Senate with decisive concern.

In voting against the resolution, Trillanes reiterated his position that the EDCA is an executive agreement that is tied to the Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines.

He added the Supreme Court should be left to decide on the question of whether the EDCA is a treaty or an executive agreement.

“I believe the arguments regarding whether the EDCA is an executive agreement or is a treaty should be left unto the Supreme Court, which it is now being studied and subject to closer scrutiny. I believe the Senate, we just have to wait for that resolution and need not express its sentiment,” he said.

Drilon, for his part, said he decided to abstain from the voting in deference to the Supreme Court deciding on the issue.

On the part of Enrile, he explained the approval of such a resolution was unnecessary because it was merely a reiteration of Article VII Section 21 of the Constitution. – Edu Punay, Rhodina Villanueva

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