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Will Duterte scrap EDCA, or use it as a bargaining chip?

Of course, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. would say, as he did in a TV interview, that President Duterte “will respect all treaty agreements with any nation, including EDCA.”

EDCA is the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement signed by President Aquino through his defense secretary with the US in April 2014, and upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court, just this January. The Court also upheld Aquino’s position that it didn’t require the approval of the Senate. This is in contrast to the similar EDCAs made by such US subservient, tiny nations as Bulgaria and Romania, which were ratified by their legislatures. Romania’s equivalent of EDCA was approved by its bicameral parliament only after a year and a half.

What Yasay hadn’t told his interviewer about was a provision in the Philippine EDCA’s last paragraph (Article XII, paragraph 4) that the agreement can be “terminated by either Party by giving one year’s notice through diplomatic channels of its intention to terminate” it.

The agreement hasn’t really been implemented yet, since it was only in January that the Supreme Court gave it the go-signal. The gist of the EDCA – the establishment of “agreed locations” (the euphemism for “forward” temporary military bases), which the US could use for stockpiling its war materiel in the country – requires a tedious process that has only barely started.

Duterte can announce tomorrow that he wants the EDCA terminated, and of course, all the work on establishing the forward bases would cease, as these would be useless.

The US was too arrogant (or wanted Aquino to demonstrate his loyalty) to think of requiring Aquino to get the Senate’s approval for it. In fact, the Philippines signed the pact with the US just hours before President Obama’s Air Force One landed at Ninoy Aquino International Airport for his state visit in April 2014. Aquino even fired the chief negotiator, the DFA official in charge of American affairs Carlos Soretta, who apparently raised too many questions over the pact, to meet Obama’s deadline.

This created suspicions that the US made its signing the condition for Obama’s visit to the country.

The US’ arrogance and Aquino’s subservience may be their undoing: Duterte can just decide one day that he wants to terminate it, and he doesn’t need the Senate’s concurrence.

US soldier teaching ours during a joint military exercises: Time to learn from others?
US soldier teaching ours during a joint military exercises: Time to learn from others?

Terminating the EDCA would be a logical step in pursuit of Duterte’s earth-shaking announcements that he WILL not BE a US lapdog, and that he would pursue an independent foreign policy. This is a historic break from the past, in sharp contrast to the pro-American, US-is-the-only-superpower-in-the-world stance of all previous Presidents, except for President Arroyo, who in effect, declared she wanted to treat the US and China on the same level.

How can the Philippines be independent, or even just appear to be so, when the existence of EDCA allows the establishment of de facto US bases — a “lite” version, as these would serve as warehouses for US military materiel — all over the country. No other Asean nation, in fact, has similar EDCAs with the US, nor does any of them have any form of US military basing.

Do you think China won’t interpret as our being a puppet if the US decides to have its forward bases under the EDCA in Palawan fronting the Spratly islands?

Will US assistance, especially for our anti-terrorism needs, decline if Duterte terminates the EDCA? I don’t think so.

The US State Department’s request to its Congress for assistance to the Philippines for last year — when the EDCA was signed — totaled $203 million, which wasn’t really a jump from the actual $189 million assistance in 2014. In fact, compared with 2014, US foreign military financing, a component of US assistance, decreased from $50 million in 2014 to $40 million in 2015. Aid for direct anti-terrorism efforts dropped from $9.1 million to $6.1 million. The Americans obviously didn’t reward Aquino with more military aid for the EDCA he gave them.

More significantly, Indonesia doesn’t have an EDCA with the US, yet the state department’s request for US AID for it for last year was $176 million, not really too far from our $203 million in 2014.

This means that if Duterte decides not to end EDCA, at least he should obtain increased military aid from the Americans, and use EDCA as a bargaining chip. After all, we haven’t been at all rewarded for being the proxy for the Americans in the South China Sea dispute by filing the case against China for its expansionism.

The US military has been ecstatic over that decision since, one way or another — as the ruling is made by an international body, never mind that it was an “arbitral court,” which means that the two contending parties agree to be put under it — it could claim it was merely defending the international rule of law if it ever actually intervened in the territorial conflicts in that area, which is across the globe from it.

And if the argument is raised that we need US advisers badly to fight the jihadist terrorists, we may ask: Why did our 44 Special Action Force troops get massacred in an operation which, by different accounts, had been carried out with support from American forces, and for which they also provided state-of-the-art equipment?

I suspect on that whole fateful day in which President Aquino was informed of the SAF’s entrapment by Moro insurgents, he was thinking the Americans would save the day. They didn’t, although they were the first to evacuate the wounded and dead.

It is time to really forge our own independent foreign policy. We have been subservient to the US for a century, and what kind of a country have we become? A country that fought the Americans, Vietnam, is now even poised to overtake us.