An EDCA challenge to Defense Secretary Lorenzana

Ricardo Saludo

Ricardo Saludo

WAS President Rodrigo Duterte joking when he mused last week that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) would be gone if he stayed in power long?

Defense Secretary DelfinLorenzana apparently thinks so. This week the retired major general and Philippine Military Academy graduate insisted that the EDCA and the Balikatan military exercises, also verbally nixed by President Duterte, were here to stay.

We’ll leave it to Secretary Lorenzana to sort out with his boss which of them was speaking in jest. For our part, this article challenges him and his friends at the US Embassy, US State Department, and US Department of Defense to rebut arguments laid out here against the EDCA.

Secretary Lorenzana can also get debating help from the agreement’s Philippine proponents: his predecessor Voltaire Gazmin, as well as President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Ambassador to Washington Jose Cuisia. The latter two recently admonished President Duterte and Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay to keep confronting China over territorial issues.

Thankfully, the current administration isn’t buying the Aquino-Del Rosario-Cuisia recipe for regional instability and national insecurity. Now, geopolitics experts and even US officials concede that Duterte’s conciliatory approach is calming tensions and nudging Beijing to abide by The Hague ruling affirming Philippine maritime claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

For SecretaryLorenzana’s response, this writer offers his column space on Tuesday, Thursday, or both (1,000 words each day). He may advice The Manila Times ( on or before Monday morning which day or days he wants for his article, which should be emailed before noon on the day preceding publication.

We look forward to the arguments from him, Del Rosario, Cuisia and America, especially those directly addressing the points below:

The EDCA makes the Philippines a target of foreign attack.

The agreement would increase rotations of nuclear-capable US forces and grant them access to Philippine military bases. Those assets and bases can be legitimately targeted by adversaries of the US, even if we have no conflict with them.

Cruise missiles launched from our territory can hit most of China, plus its vital shipping in the South China Sea, including four-fifths of its oil imports. Against that threat, the People’s Liberation Army has arrayed hundreds of projectiles along the Chinese coast and inland, ready for devastating strikes at American forces and the bases they use.

In its recent US Army-sponsored report, “War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable,” the RAND think tank warned that US and Chinese forces can inflict massive damage on each other. Hence, “both have an incentive to strike enemy forces before being struck by them” <>.

RAND added that “the Chinese regard aircraft carriers and regional air bases as prime targets.” Under the EDCA, US warplanes can use airfields at Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, and Puerto Princesa’s airports, plus facilities in Nueva Ecija and Pampanga.

The EDCA gives nil support in territorial disputes.

Despite their enlarged deployment under the agreement, American forces won’t intervene in territorial frictions.

Asked twice after the EDCA signing in 2014 what the US would do if Sino-Philippine disputes turned violent, President Barack Obama could only say that differences should be settled peacefully. Yet he pledged just days before in Tokyo that Washington would defend the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands also claimed by Beijing.

And when then-President-elect Duterte asked Ambassador Philip Goldberg “Are you with us?”, the envoy replied: “Only if you are attacked.” No wonder the Seventh Fleet did zilch when China grabbed Mischief Reef in 1995 and Scarborough Shoal in 2012.

The EDCA undermines the independent foreign policy of President Duterte.

Hosting and supporting the US military under the EDCA makes Philippine foreign policy parrot America’s.

Thus, despite talking “alliance” in Beijing, President Duterte wouldn’t convince China if American forces hereabouts threaten it. And even if we’re neutral in the Senkaku/Diaoyutai dispute, we effectively take Tokyo’s side, since the Seventh Fleet rotating and using bases in our country would defend the Japanese claim.

To make our international relations truly independent, we cannot host forces deployed by another country to advance its foreign policy.

The EDCA allows America to violate the Constitution’s ban on atomic weapons.

Washington never says which of its warships, submarines and planes carry nuclear weapons. Since the EDCA would let those forces in without checking for nukes, it abets violations of the Constitution’s express ban on such ordnance entering the country.

If the agreement proceeds, President Duterte may face a mandamus petition requiring protocols to ensure that US assets in the country have no nukes. Failing to comply could be culpable violation of the Constitution.

With proper defenses, the Philippines can deter territorial encroachments without the EDCA.

US security experts urge the Philippines to acquire maritime surveillance planes, anti-ship coastal defenses, and anti-aircraft systems to counter maritime encroachments. Former National Security Adviser RoiloGolez, a US Naval Academy graduate, recommends the BrahMos supersonic anti-ship missile developed by Russia and India.

At a total cost of P35 billion, including support infrastructure, 200 of the hard-to-spot mobile projectiles would deter interlopers 300 to 400 kilometers from shore—covering our entire exclusive economic zone under the UNCLOS.

Add reconnaissance aircraft and anti-aircraft guns and rockets—which can all be funded by rebudgeting part of the P1 trillion left unspent by the Aquino government—and we can protect our EEZ sans EDCA.

Last issue: Will America defend the Philippines without the agreement? Yes, because it cannot allow hostile forces to occupy and use the archipelago as a vast military platform—as the US can now do under the EDCA. And in the face of 200 supersonic BrahMos and the Seventh Fleet, invading our country would be suicide.

Your ball, Mr. Secretary.

(The author, managing director of the Center for Strategy, Enterprise & Intelligence, was Cabinet Secretary in 2002-08, and Asiaweek editor-writer in 1984-2001. He holds an MS in Public Policy & Management from the University of London, and a diploma in strategy and innovation from Oxford.)


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1 Comment

  1. Why cannot we all get along. No more war must be our objective and not planning to kill each other first. Why fight for a small uninhabited island? Looks like everybody is getting paranoid. Chill. Our objective is to end poverty and starvation. Let our people have a decent affordable life.