EDCA bars building of US bases – SC

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Even while the Supreme Court has upheld its legality, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) will not pave the way for the establishment of US military bases in the Philippines.

This is according to the Supreme Court (SC) ruling last Tuesday upholding the constitutionality of EDCA but reminding authorities of its limits.

“The executive agreement must not go beyond the parameters, limitations and standards set by the law and/or treaty that the former purports to implement and must not unduly expand the international obligation expressly mentioned or necessarily implied in the law or treaty,” read the decision penned by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno.

Philippine and US officials signed EDCA in April 2014 hours before the state visit of US President Barack Obama.

But the Senate, in a resolution, said EDCA should be regarded as a treaty requiring the chamber’s concurrence.

In its decision, the SC stressed EDCA should remain “consistent with the Constitution, as well as with existing laws and treaties.”

It said Article XVIII Section 25 of the Constitution provides “stringent requirements” before a foreign military base could be allowed in the country.

“The agreement must be in the form of a treaty, it must be duly concurred in by the Senate, and it must be recognized as a treaty by the other state,” the high court explained, adding that a treaty is necessary as “instrument that allows the presence of foreign military bases, troops or facilities.”

In its ruling, the high tribunal also held that the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) only “allows US troops or facilities to enter” the country and that the agreement between the US and the Philippines on military bases had expired in 1991.

The Philippines hosted the two biggest US overseas bases until 1991 when the Senate voted against renewing the lease agreement on the military facilities.

“The EDCA doesn’t allow US bases; not even VFA allows it,” SC spokesman Theodore Te told The STAR in a text message.

No constitutional crisis

Te also dispelled fears of a possible constitutional crisis due to contrasting stands of the SC and the Senate on the issue.

“The Court has the mandate to resolve constitutional issues, so there can’t be a crisis there,” he pointed out.

The SC stressed that EDCA is merely an implementing executive agreement for the VFA.

Former senators Rene Saguisag and Wigberto Tañada and militant lawmakers led by Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate filed the petition with the SC contesting the legality of EDCA.

With Sereno in the majority ruling were nine magistrates: Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Martin Villarama Jr., Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza and Bienvenido Reyes.

Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo Brion, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Marvic Leonen dissented from the decision.

Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza abstained, citing his previous handling of the case as solicitor general.

Under EDCA, the US will be allowed to build structures, as well as store or preposition weapons, defense supplies and materiel in Philippine military camps for a period of 10 years. The US will also be allowed to station troops, civilian personnel and defense contractors, as well as transit and station vehicles, vessels and aircraft within the period.

Correct decision

Meanwhile, Liberal Party senatorial candidate and former justice chief Leila de Lima lauded the SC for its ruling.

“The Supreme Court correctly ruled that the EDCA is just an implementing executive agreement of the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty, and therefore is not a separate treaty that needs the ratification of the Senate to become effective and binding between the two Pacific allies,” said De Lima, a member of the VFA Commission when she was justice secretary.

De Lima said the Supreme Court case against EDCA was the final hurdle toward an expansive cooperation between the Philippines and the US that is focused on the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“The EDCA is a much needed boost to the existing VFA in modernizing our armed forces’ capabilities and equipment, as the AFP is further exposed to training and orientation on state-of-the-art weapon technologies and systems that the United States Armed Forces is expected to bring in under the terms of the expanded arrangements for hosting US forces in Philippine-controlled military bases,” she stressed.












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