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Bulgarian and Romanian parliaments ratified their ‘EDCAs’ Our Senate can’t be an inferior body

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the Senate chairman of the foreign relations committee, is right.  The “Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement” (EDCA) that President Benigno Aquino 3rd entered into with the United States last year is a treaty, which under our Constitution, categorically requires to be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate.

 EDCA: Copied from Bulgarian and Romanian agreements.
EDCA: Copied from Bulgarian and Romanian agreements.

The overwhelming majority of our senators proved to be independent of President Aquino and patriotic enough to sign a resolution that Sen. Santiago drafted: that the EDCA must be ratified by the Senate. Only Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th opposed it, while Senate President Franklin Drilon and Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile abstained. And this megalomaniac wants to be vice president?

The EDCA isn’t a novel agreement. It implements the US’ new strategy for the global projection of its military power: Less permanent bases, and more “forward operating sites,” as Pentagon jargon calls these, which could rapidly be transformed into bases when needed.

Our EDCA is almost entirely copied from the military treaties the US entered into with two Balkan countries, Romania in 2005 and Bulgaria in 2006. The US had become worried that if conflicts in Eastern and Central Europe erupted, its military would be too far to be quickly and effectively deployed, leaving Russia as the unchallenged superpower in that region.

Unlike our dummy of a President, though, the two countries’ prime ministers asked their Parliaments to ratify it right after the treaties were signed. Their Supreme Courts didn’t waste their time and energy to rule whether the treaties needed their parliaments’ ratification.

The unicameral Bulgarian National Assembly ratified the pact a month after it was signed in April 2006. However, in the case of Romania, its bicameral parliament approved the country’s defense agreement 17 months after US State Secretary Condoleeza Rice and her Romanian counterpart signed the pact in December 2005.

Romania and Bulgaria are small countries, having 20 million and 7 million populations, respectively. Will we, with a 100 million population, be so wimpy as not to require our Senators to rule whether EDCA is good or not for our nation?

The EDCA, whether we like or not, is the modern counterpart of the US bases agreement during the Cold War. The difference is that EDCA allows access for the US military to foreign soil, without the hundreds of billions of dollars permanent bases require.

Drawing lessons from its invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, during which its supply lines were dangerously thinly stretched, the Pentagon had developed its new concept of “forward operating sites” (FOS) for wars and low-intensity conflicts in which it may be involved in the future. This was, as one study pointed out, America’s new, cost-effective “(military) basing paradigm” in the 21st century

Russia there, China here?

Russia was the obvious “target” for the Bulgarian and Romanian FOS made possible through their EDCAs. Who the target is for the Philippine FOS, which our EDCA will allow, is a no-brainer: China. Our EDCA, therefore, would be another factor besides the case we filed against it involving its South China Sea territorial claims, which could worsen our relationship with our second biggest trading partner (2013 and 2014 data).

Informally dubbed ‘lily pads,’ the FOS would allow rotational or periodic access for training purposes (for the US military), while also providing readily ‘expandable’ facilities with pre-positioned equipment, a study of the European Center for Security Studies explained. [Moldovan, D. et. al. “Joint Task Force East and Shared Military Basing in Romania and Bulgaria,” Occasional Paper Series, George C. Marshall Center For Security Studies 2009.]

With EDCA, the US will be making the Philippines its FOS laboratory in East Asia, using the Bulgarian and Romanian experiences as its template.

I hope the Supreme Court didn’t go along with Aquino’s argument that EDCA is merely part of the Visiting Forces Agreement. That argument is absurd.

The VFA merely provides the legal framework (visa requirements, tax-free status of US forces’ imports, and, mainly, jurisdiction over US personnel committing crimes) for US armed forces personnel participating in joint military exercises with the Philippine military in our territory.

This is so different from the new pact’s main provisions, which will convert parts of our military bases into American military forward operating sites for pre-positioning its war material.

Our Constitution is even more categorical than the Bulgarian and Romanian Constitutions, because of the strong anti-American sentiment among the framers of the Constitution, partly because the US, concerned about its bases, had propped up the Marcos dictatorship.

Section 25, Article XVIII of our Constitution says: “Foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”

Categorical provisions

I can’t see how this government can stretch logic and language that it could skirt such very categorical provisions of the Constitution. How can it claim that US military structures built to house American pre-positioned war materiel aren’t “foreign military facilities,” or that the American troops manning them aren’t “foreign military troops” on Philippine soil?

If you read the two Balkan treaties and then the recently signed EDCA, you’d strongly suspect that the Americans simply pulled out of their computer files the Bulgarian and Romanian treaties, and simply inserted the word “Philippines” into the relevant portions.

They were rushing at the time. Aquino approved the pact on April 28, 2014 as the government was secretly told that without the EDCA, “there was no point for US President Obama to visit the Philippines.”

Aquino was desperate at that time. By then, Obama had visited Indonesia (twice), Thailand, Cambodia, and Burma—countries with which the US doesn’t even have any of that “special relationship” the Philippines is proud of. The window was fast closing: it was already 2014 and the US President hadn’t visited the Philippines under Aquino’s term.

Worse, Obama was scheduled to visit Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia during that month. It would certainly appear that the head of the most powerful nation on earth snubbed the Philippines if Obama didn’t visit the country in that Asian tour. And he could have done that for the flimsiest of reasons, if the EDCA wasn’t signed.

So Aquino ordered it signed, telling the US to go ahead, implement it, no need for a Senate concurrence. Two former senators who, 24 years ago, fought for the removal of US military bases from the Philippines asked the High Court to strike it down.

There is a very important difference in the Philippines’ military pact with the US compared with those of Romania and Bulgaria.

The treaties of the two Balkan countries specify 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.

What a political manservant to Aquino our Senate president Franklin Drilon has become when he said last year: “The Senate cannot compel Malacañang to submit the EDCA for ratification.”