SC rules with finality: EDCA constitutional

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – With no new arguments presented, the Supreme Court (SC) yesterday gave its final nod to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States.

In a session coinciding with the day US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the country for a two-day visit, the SC justices voted 9-4 to deny the appeals filed by former senators Rene Saguisag and Wigberto Tañada and militant lawmakers led by Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate.

The high court, citing a lack of new arguments, instead affirmed its January decision finding the EDCA not constitutionally infirm as alleged by the petitioners.

Malacañang lauded the SC decision and expressed optimism it would further improve Philippine-US military relations.

“We likewise remain confident that through this military cooperation we would improve our joint humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts,” Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said in a text message to reporters.

The petitioners reiterated their main argument in their separate motions for reconsideration last February that EDCA violated Article 18, Section 25 of the Constitution, which requires concurrence of Senate on treaties.

“Petitioners do not present new arguments to buttress their claims of error on the part of this Court. They have rehashed their prior arguments and made them responsive to the structure of the decision, yet the points being made are the same,” read the resolution penned by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno.

The SC stood firm on its finding that EDCA is not a form of treaty, but rather a valid executive agreement that former president Benigno Aquino III was allowed to enter into with the US under the Constitution, to implement the earlier Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

“EDCA did not go beyond the framework. The entry of US troops has long been authorized under a valid and subsisting treaty, which is the Visiting Forces Agreement. Reading the VFA along with the longstanding Mutual Defense Treaty led this Court to the conclusion that an executive agreement such as the EDCA was well within the bounds of the obligations imposed by both treaties,” the high tribunal stressed.

The SC said the arguments of petitioners “fell flat before the stronger legal position that EDCA merely implemented the VFA and MDT.”

The SC also again rejected the argument of petitioners that the agreement should be considered a treaty as it introduced “amendment” to the military bases agreement through exchange of notes.

“Diplomatic exchanges of notes are not treaties but rather formal communication tools on routine agreements, akin to private law contracts, for the executive branch. This cannot truly amend or change the terms of the treaty, but merely serve as private contracts between the executive branches of government,” it pointed out.

Furthermore, the high tribunal said it could not grant the petition of the former and incumbent lawmakers and rescind EDCA just because it is not a good deal for the country.

“Unfortunately, the Court’s only concern is the legality of EDCA and not its wisdom or folly; their remedy clearly belongs to the executive or legislative branches of government,” it added.

Sereno was joined by eight magistrates in the majority ruling: Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza and Bienvenido Reyes.

Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo Brion, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Marvic Leonen dissented, while Associate Justices Francis Jardeleza and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa took no part due to their previous role in the case as solicitor general and chief presidential legal counsel.

Under EDCA, the US is allowed to build structures, store as well as preposition weapons, defense supplies and materiel; station troops, civilian personnel and defense contractors; transit and station vehicles, vessels and aircraft for a period of 10 years.

It was signed by officials of both countries hours before President Obama arrived in the country for his two-day state visit on April 28 and 29, 2014.

Andanar said EDCA is now indisputably constitutional, as “the court of last resort has spoken.” 

“The Supreme Court’s decision upholding EDCA’s legality hopes to increase the interoperability of our armed forces and contribute to its modernization,” he added. – With Christina Mendez

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