‘Ruling to boost Philippine defense amid China assertiveness’

Pia Lee-Brago, Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang and the United States hailed yesterday the Supreme Court (SC) decision declaring the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the US and the Philippines constitutional.

The EDCA will help strengthen the country’s overall national defense posture amid China’s assertiveness in the West Philippine Sea, a Palace official said.

The US government also hailed the ruling.

In a statement, the US embassy said,“The US welcomes the SC decision to uphold the agreement, which will further strengthen the US-Philippine bilateral relationship.”

“The EDCA is a mutually beneficial agreement that will enhance our ability to provide rapid humanitarian assistance and help build capacity for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP),” it said.

“We look forward to working closely with our Philippine partners on the implementation of this agreement,” the embassy added.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the pact could help in the AFP modernization program.

Quoting President Aquino, Coloma said the EDCA would introduce the AFP to the “most modern military equipment” and allow “a generational leap in our abilities” to operate the defense materiel.

Aside from upgrading military equipment and capability on maritime and territorial defense, Coloma said the agreement would enhance the country’s humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

“The SC ruling on EDCA strengthens the strategic partnership between the Philippines and the US that is founded on two important building blocks – the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement,” Coloma said.

Aquino earlier said the EDCA was not meant to strengthen the country’s defense against China but was merely a refinement of a longstanding defense treaty between the Philippines and the US.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also welcomed the SC decision upholding the constitutionality of the EDCA.

“The EDCA is a critical component of our efforts to enhance and strengthen national security and improve our humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities,” the DFA said.  

“With the high court’s decision, the Philippine and US governments can now proceed in finalizing the arrangements for full implementation of the agreement,” it added.

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg had said EDCA is not directly tied to the West Philippine Sea issue.

Under the EDCA, Goldberg said there would be more cooperation in terms of maritime security between the US and the Philippines.

During the hearing of the Senate committee on foreign relations in December 2014, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the EDCA contains provisions on strengthening the country’s maritime security, which are not contained in the Visiting Forces Agreement.

He said the agreement does not actually allow the establishment of foreign military bases in the Philippines.

The AFP welcomed the SC ruling on the EDCA, saying it would improve the country’s maritime security and territorial defense.

“The SC decision boosts our defense cooperation with a key ally,” AFP chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri told reporters.

The Department of National Defense (DND) believes the high court ruling will enhance the capabilities of the military.

“With this development, we look forward to advancing our defense modernization and strengthening maritime security and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities,” DND spokesman Peter Galvez said.

“This puts us in a better position to improve our interoperability with the US and increase our Armed Forces’ capacities,” Galvez added.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security, said the SC ruling validated his vote against a resolution filed by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago stating that the EDCA has to be ratified by the Senate.

Trillanes said it is merely an executive agreement to implement the US-Philippine obligations under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

Santiago has yet to issue a statement on the SC decision.

According to her staff, Santiago wants to go over the high court’s ruling first.

The senators who signed 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, Ralph Recto and Pia Cayetano.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV abstained in the voting. – Jaime Laude, Alexis Romero, Marvin Sy

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