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EDCA: The price of Obama’s visit last April

The “Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement” (EDCA) was the price President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd paid to get US President Barack Obama to make a state visit to the country last April.

The problem is, as Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has argued, it wasn’t something Aquino could give away on his own. The Senate must ratify it.

The Constitution is quite clear on the matter. Section 25, Article XVIII, says: “Foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate.”

Aquino’s claim that EDCA merely implements the Visiting Forces Agreement, ratified by the Senate in 1999, is utterly absurd.

The VFA merely clarifies the legal framework for routine matters—things like visa requirements, duty-free status of US forces’ imports, and, jurisdiction over US personnel committing crimes – involving US armed forces personnel participating in joint military exercises with the Philippine military in our territory. And even if the VFA merely implemented the Mutual Defense Agreement of 1951 that provided for joint military exercises, the Senate was required to ratify it.

The US’ military treaties with Bulgaria and Romania were nearly the same, with few very important differences, though.


The Aquino government’s claims had prodded Senator Santiago, chairperson of the Senate’s foreign relations committee, to exclaim: “My goodness, the Mutual Defense Treaty [is so old]…. It is over 50 years old. How can a treaty in 2014 be the implementation of a treaty made as far back as 1951? They are stretching it too far,” Santiago said.

EDCA is a radically different pact. It will convert parts of our military bases into the US armed forces’ “forward operating sites” where they can stockpile and pre-position its war materiel, and which they can use as jump-off platforms when they go to war.

If the Senate does not ratify EDCA, we will not only be diminishing its stature. We will be trashing the Constitution just to bow to a new US global military strategy.

We will be shaming ourselves as a nation: exactly similar military treaties by the US with two other countries, Romania in 2005 and Bulgaria in 2006, were ratified by the two Balkan countries’ parliaments before they could take effect.

Do these nations value their sovereignty more than we do ours?

It seems so, as Aquino rushed the signing of EDCA in order to prettify his regime. He had been desperate for President Obama, the head of the world’s sole superpower and our former colonizer, to visit the Philippines. Time was flying fast toward his last years in office and he faced the prospect of being the only post-war Philippine President not to have been visited by an incumbent US president. Last April was the only possibility for an Obama visit, as he was scheduled for must-visits to Japan and South Korea.

The US must have told Aquino: “Either we have the EDCA signed or no Obama visit.” Aquino ordered the talks rushed, so that he summarily replaced in March Ambassador Carlos Sorreta, who had been the negotiating panel’s chairman since 2012, as well as the foreign affairs department’s expert on American affairs. Sorreta, a protégé of the nationalist former foreign affairs secretary, the late Blas Ople, was raising too many questions over the proposed treaty.

Kicked out
So he was kicked out and replaced by a professionally mediocre 42-year old defense department undersecretary for legal affairs, Pio Lorenzo Batino, whose knowledge and experience in diplomatic negotiations (or even in any kind of negotiations) was zero.

The US government, on the other hand, had assigned one of its top trouble-shooting diplomats, former Assistant State Secretary for Intelligence Philip Goldberg, to head its panel, appointing him as ambassador to the Philippines in November 2013 as justification for that role. As soon as the Senate clears EDCA—if ever, that is—or if it is thrown into the dustbin, expect Goldberg to be assigned elsewhere immediately. EDCA has been his mission here.

The Americans sent a clear message they weren’t bluffing in their no-EDCA-no-Obama threat by scheduling his visit to the Philippines last in his four-country tour. If, for some reason, EDCA wasn’t signed, they could have invoked the flimsiest reason for Obama to rush home instead and cancel his visit to the Philippines.

Why, the Americans even required the EDCA to be signed before Obama set foot on Philippine soil. It was, indeed, inked (by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador Philip Goldberg) while Air Force One was airborne after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia—a precise timing that would have allowed Obama to cancel his visit if for some reason he didn’t get the EDCA.

The US wanted EDCA to be implemented without the Senate’s ratification since the Senate could have rejected, as a similar treaty with Romania nearly would have been. It was ratified only after intense debate in its Chamber of Deputies and its “Senat” in May 2007—17 months after US State Secretary Condoleeza Rice and her Romanian counterpart signed it. Yes, in the case of its “EDCA” treaties with Bulgaria (population: 7 million) and Romania (21 million) treaties, the US sent its top diplomat, its State Secretary to sign the pacts; in our case it’s just the ambassador to the Philippines who did so.

The EDCA is not a unique agreement. It hews closely to the US’ new template in its global projection of its military power: Less permanent bases, and more “forward operating sites,” as Pentagon jargon calls these, which could be rapidly transformed into bases when needed.

Dubbed “lily pads” by the Pentagon, “such sites would allow rotational or periodic access for training purposes while also providing readily expandable facilities with pre-positioned equipment,” states a study of the European Center for Security Studies. This was, the study pointed out, America’s “new, cost-effective (read: cheaper) basing paradigm” in the 21st century.

FOS against China
With EDCA, the US will be making the Philippines its forward operating site in Asia, obviously positioned against the only other military power in the region, China, just as Bulgaria and Romania were, in their case, against Russia.

Many provisions in the Philippine EDCA were lifted verbatim from the US agreements with Bulgaria and Romania. Only the word “enhanced” was added to the “Defense Cooperation Agreements” title of the pact the US signed with Bulgaria. This was intended to falsely portray it as an extension—an “enhancement”—of the VFA and the much earlier 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

If you read the treaties with the two Balkan states, and then the recently signed EDCA, you’d conclude that the Americans simply pulled out of their filing cabinet the Bulgarian and Romanian treaties, and just replaced the word “Philippines” for Bulgaria or Romania.

There is a very important difference, though, in the Philippine EDCA compared with those of Romania and Bulgaria, showing the Aquino government’s utter capitulation to the US.

The treaties of the two Balkan countries categorically provide that only 2,500 US military personnel may be deployed in each of their countries at any time. In case of an overlap of two deployments, a maximum of 5,000 US troops may stay in their countries, but only for three months.

In our case, there is no such limit to how many US troops the treaty allows to be deployed in “agreed locations” in our military camps.

They could even deploy a US Special Forces division of 25,000 troops—which could certainly be accommodated in their former bases in Clark and Subic — and Aquino’s treaty would allow that. The EDCA, therefore, could make us the US’ “biggest military base in the world.”

We could debate until we get hoarse whether EDCA would be beneficial to our country or not. What is certain, though, is that if the Senate reneges on its duty to put it under its scrutiny and for it to decide to ratify it or not, it will very seriously weaken our Constitution’s integrity and our sovereignty.

This Senate could go down in history as an institution that was so servile to a President who was so servile to a foreign power.

(The second part of my report on our territorial dispute with China, and Senator Antonio Trillanes’ allegations regarding government’s mishandling of it will be published Friday, since I had to get the “other side,” as I always try to do. In this case it is that of a prominent personality the senator accused as having a role in the matter: PLDT and Philex Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan.)