Iron out kinks in deals

Since both the VFA and EDCA are considered executive agreements by the US government, they would need a Palace initiative for review.

In a joint statement during the recent visit of US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III, the Philippines and the United States pledged “to accelerate the full implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA in which four new agreed locations will be designated in strategic areas of the country.”

The statement also indicated the “substantial completion of the projects in the existing five agreed locations.”

EDCA, an executive agreement that came into effect during the term of the late President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, opened designated Philippine camps to American forces, which should be the first such base agreement allowing the stationing of foreign troops in the country since 1991 when the Senate rejected an extension of the 1947 US military bases agreement.

As solid relations between the strategic allies resumed after an easing of the iron-clad partnership during the previous term, a review of the various agreements related to the deployment of US personnel and equipment must be conducted to ensure that Filipinos do not receive the raw end of the deal.

In one of his many tussles with the United States, former President Rodrigo Duterte said EDCA was not even signed by President Aquino and should have been renegotiated.

EDCA was conceived during the administration of former US President Barack Obama under its policy to “rebalance” American military forces to Asia and was thus part of the US government’s thrust to contain China.

The agreement escaped scrutiny from the Philippine Congress as it was considered an executive deal.

The late illustrious Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago had insisted that EDCA be sent to the Senate as a treaty and not a mere executive agreement.

The Supreme Court, however, upheld EDCA’s constitutionality as a bilateral agreement but Santiago stood up to assert the authority of the Senate over the agreement.

Despite the High Tribunal’s ruling, Santiago, an expert on the Constitution, said EDCA had substantive provisions on the establishment, location, and stationing of US military forces and the storage of equipment in Philippine territory.

“That such a prohibited ‘treaty’ has been concluded by the Executive Department as an executive agreement testifies to its inherently prohibitory nature under the Constitution,” Santiago had said.

In 1998, one of the senators who voted to kick out the Americans seven years before, Joseph Estrada, became President and he signed the Visiting Forces Agreement that allowed the rotational presence of foreign military forces in the country.

In 2014, senators called for a review of the VFA and EDCA. The legislators contended that the VFA had vague provisions that the Americans could exploit in their favor when the need arose.

The custody dispute that arose from the filing of murder charges against US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton over the death of transgender Jeffrey Laude in October 2014 exemplified the need for a reworking of the deal.

Since both the VFA and EDCA are considered executive agreements by the US government, they would need a Palace initiative for review.

As the maritime friction with China heats up, the two executive agreements will have a great bearing on determining the extent of the involvement of the Philippines in the rivalry between the superpowers.

The process of reviewing and amending the provisions of the deal should also be made transparent for Filipinos to have an active part in the processes.

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