US happy with EDCA, working with Philippines for implementation

Jose Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - October 6, 2016 - 12:00am

WASHINGTON – The United States is not making any changes to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the Philippines and will work with the Duterte administration to implement it, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.

Cook made the statement on Tuesday when asked to comment on President Duterte’s threat to cancel EDCA. He said there has been no official communication from Manila on the matter.

Cook said Defense Secretary Ashton Carter had good and productive talks with his Filipino counterpart Delfin Lorenzana in Hawaii last week about the continuation of the two countries’ Mutual Defense Treaty, in effect since 1951.

Washington has said it will continue to meet its commitments to the alliance.

The Supreme Court last January approved the constitutionality of EDCA, which allows US access to five Philippine military bases to station troops and supplies on a rotational basis to help counterbalance Chinese presence in the South China Sea.

Duterte has been hitting back at the United States and President Barack Obama over the past weeks because of US insistence that he abide by the rule of law and put an end to extrajudicial killings in his brutal war against drugs.

Since coming to power three months ago, some 3,500 people have been reported killed in the war on drugs.

Clashing positions

In Manila, Duterte and his spokesman appear to have conflicting positions on how the country should deal with the US, a traditional ally and treaty partner.

The President, on Tuesday, declared he might eventually break ties with the US.

“I will be reconfiguring my foreign policy,” Duterte said during a visit to the Beit Yaacov Synagogue in Makati.

“Eventually I might, in my time, I will break out America. I would rather go to Russia and to China. At least even if we do not agree with the ideology they have respect for the people. Respect is important,” he added.

Duterte’s spokesman, however, views the statement differently. 

In a press briefing in Malacañang yesterday, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella claimed that Duterte was merely emphasizing the need for an independent foreign policy. “It does not necessarily mean breaking up alliances,” Abella said.

“Let us try to use our creative imagination. Let’s not be too literal,” he added.

When asked which among Duterte’s remarks were policy statements, Abella replied: “It becomes policy when there is official action. OK? That’s it. Is it clear?”

Duterte made the remark weeks after he declared that the Philippines is not cutting its umbilical cord with its allies but would “certainly follow an independent posture and independent foreign policy.”

When asked how he can reconcile the seemingly contradictory statements, Abella offered a personal opinion.

“This is not policy but this is my opinion regarding the way he makes statements, okay. Like for example, I think very recently he said he wants – I think it was yesterday or this morning, he said, he wants Americans out of Mindanao,” he said.

“So he carefully calibrates his statements. So along that line – if we follow his style – then let us carefully, let us not simply just put a period at the end of his statement… let’s wait for his clarifications regarding the matter.”

Pressed if he thinks the President should be more specific with his statements to avoid misinterpretation, Abella said: “We can want, or we can wish. But this is his particular leadership style. So it’s best I think to just allow him to complete his policies in time.”

Economic analyst Peter Wallace believes Duterte would not sever ties with the US.

“For the last 60 years since we broke away from America as a colony, there has always been this kind of subservient thinking and he wants to break that. He wants to establish that the Philippines is a truly independent country,” Wallace told Malacañang reporters yesterday.

“I don’t see him as trying to divorce himself from America. That would make no sense, right? He’s just trying to establish an equal partnership and that’s a different thing.”

No need for Senate OK

For Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, the President can terminate EDCA without requiring any action from the Senate.

Pimentel noted that there is a provision in the EDCA governing any move to terminate it. He stressed EDCA is purely an executive initiative.

“I think there will be a notice from the executive branch – because the executive branch is in charge of foreign relations, especially this is a military agreement,” Pimentel said.

“The notice will come from the executive branch – DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs), DND (Department of National Defense) or even the President,” he added.

“But let’s take note, even the first step hasn’t kicked in yet, so there is nothing to talk about. There is no termination to talk about,” Pimentel said partly in Filipino.

Sen. Richard Gordon said the EDCA should remain for now just in case conflict breaks out between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea.

Chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo, meanwhile, defended President Duterte’s plan to junk EDCA. – With Alexis Romero, Marvin Sy, Mayen Jaymalin

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