Priming EDCA reboot

“EDCA also contains provisions that make it incumbent on the Philippine government to assist the US forces in facilitating the deployment of forces.

One of the agendas at the recent 10th Philippines-United States Bilateral Strategic Dialogue was the controversial Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed during the term of the late President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and which will expire next year.

In the joint statement of the Philippines and US panels on the outcome of the periodic review that was stalled during the term of President Rodrigo Duterte who made clear to the Americans his sentiment on the superpower, EDCA merited one paragraph but its implications in the grand scheme of things are enormous.

The statement under the topic of “Cementing an Enduring Alliance” suggested, “To fully implement the PH-US EDCA through the expedited completion of projects in existing Agreed Locations and finalizing procedures for the adoption of additional Agreed Locations.”

On 19 March 2016, five locations of military bases were allowed for the stationing of American troops under the EDCA. These were the Antonio Bautista Air Base (Palawan), Basa Air Base (Pampanga), Fort Magsaysay (Nueva Ecija), Lumbia Airport (Cagayan de Oro), Benito Ebuen Air Base (Mactan, Cebu).

The Americans are negotiating for five more locations to station their troops and equipment.

The revisiting of EDCA and the plan to beef it up happens amid the uncertain geopolitical environment as nations scramble for resources as the world recovers from the pandemic, inducing flashpoints of conflict.

In a January 2016 decision, the Supreme Court voting 10-4-1 upheld EDCA as an executive agreement saying it was within the bounds of the Constitution thus ending debates about the need to have it subjected to Senate ratification.

“Mere fears cannot curtail the exercise by the President of the Philippines of his Constitutional prerogatives in respect of foreign affairs,” the SC ruled.

“To keep the peace in its archipelago in this region of the world, and to sustain itself at the same time against the destructive forces of nature, the Philippines will need friends,” the SC said.

“Who they are and what form the friendships will take, are for the President to decide,” it added.

What remains a big question is the matter of compensation or increases in US military aid except for a perennial pledge for the Philippines to get a big part of the assistance targeted for the region.

The agreement does not cover only US military personnel and assets but also private “contractors” for military projects.

The US military bases agreement which the Senate junked in 1991 looks even preferable to EDCA.

At least some form of compensation, which the US government refused to call rent, was given to the country annually under the 1947 agreement.

EDCA also contains provisions that make it incumbent on the Philippine government to assist the US forces in facilitating the deployment of forces.

Discussions about EDCA should be transparent as it ultimately affects the interest of Filipinos amid the simmering conflict in the region.

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