EDCA: Inconvenient truths about the US alliance


First of two parts

Nine months late, the Senate, prodded by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and a looming adverse ruling by the Supreme Court, has finally owned up to its constitutional duty and is hopefully set to review the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. Signed shortly before US President Barack Obama’s April visit, the EDCA expands the deployment of American forces in the country and grants access to Philippine bases.

Hence, it’s timely to review some much-downplayed facts about South China Sea tensions. Here’s the bottom line, based on 32 columns on regional security published by this writer since 2010: The EDCA does not help in South China Sea disputes and actually provokes more threats.

On our own on the high seas
Fact No. 1: The US has never taken action to defend Philippine territorial interests on the seas — and has in fact deliberately violated them.

The article “After Aquino: What his successor must fix,” published on April 28, the day US President Barack Obama arrived for his state visit this year, stated: “… in contrast to the instant challenge by American B-52 bombers against Beijing’s air defense identification zone over Japanese-held islands last November, US forces have never rattled even a jacknife during China’s takeover of Mischief Reef in the 1990s and Panatag Shoal in 2012, or its attempted mini-blockade of Ayungin Shoal this year.”

Further, the March 31 column “Who is the worst violator of Philippine territory?” reported, quoting an official Pentagon report to the American Congress: “Sailing between our islands nearly 20 times last year, US vessels pointedly challenged the UNCLOS-backed claim that waters within the archipelago are part of Philippine territory. As the US Defense Department told Congress in its Freedom of Navigation Report for Fiscal Year 2013, the American Navy entered those internal waters within our archipelago, showing Washington’s opposition to that claim.”

UNCLOS is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the international agreement on which our U.N. arbitration case against China is based. Washington has never ratified the decades-old pact and openly challenges it year after year. “The Pentagon report said that among a dozen countries subjected to maritime challenges of their UNCLOS-designated waters, the second-most sailings occurred in the Philippines, next only to intrusions in Iran,” the article noted.

And we expect the US to help defend our territorial claims grounded on the international maritime treaty it rejects. Is that dumb or what?

The flawed US defense alliance
Fact No. 2: While US forces are committed to immediately respond to attacks on Europe and Japan, it is not so for the Philippines.

The article “Big Holes in the Philippines-US defense treaty,” published March 21, stated: “… the US Senate approved in November 2012 the Webb Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013. It reaffirmed America’s security commitment to Japan, and specifically ‘acknowledges the administration of Japan over the Senkaku Islands.’ That brings the disputed territory explicitly under the Japan-US defense pact. And that’s why American B-52 bombers challenged China’s air defense identification zone over the Senkakus last November.”

The column adds: “Even better than the defense pact with Tokyo, however, is that of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization safeguarding Europe … the NATO commitment is clear and simple. If any member is attacked, the rest will respond:

“ ‘… if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.’ ”

What about the Mutual Defense Treaty between America and the Philippines? The MDT stipulates that if there is “an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific”, the US “would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.”

Last time we checked, Washington’s legal procedures require Congress’s nod to take deploy troops. As the article said, “Under the US Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973, without congressional approval, the Commander-in-Chief may order military action only in ‘a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.’ ” Not our islets and shoals.

On the second day of his April 28-29 visit, President Obama told Filipinos in his Fort Bonifacio speech, “you are not alone” in facing threats. Yet in his Palace press conference just the day before and soon after the EDCA signing, the American leader was evasive when twice asked by local reporters how America would respond to hostilities between China and the Philippines over territorial claims.

It gets worse: not only is EDCA useless in maritime squabbles with China. As noted in “Two Myths: The US Alliance Poses Grave Risks,” published June 18, the pact also “provokes far greater security dangers than foreign encroachments in faraway islands and shoals: China’s military buildup near the archipelago and the targeting of the Philippines by its missiles.” More on tomorrow, plus the right strategy to defend our UNCLOS rights without calling on an ally we simply can’t count on.

(The last part will be published tomorrow.)


Please follow our commenting guidelines.


    • Since it was signed already, I assume that the Philippines and the US gave their consent to be bound by the treaty based on Article 12 of the Vienna Convention. But why do some people say that it is not a treaty yet?

  1. Since our country is under the thumb of the US, well they can basically do anything they want with our islands.
    We literally have to start from scratch if we ever want ant our own independent policy. That means our own industrial base that will manufacture our own weapons to defend ourselves.
    And to do the above we will have start working smart. We should keep our nationalist free from the clutches of the CIA/Pentagon who kill or incapacitate any flicker of nationalistic content in “ANY” country in the world.
    Prime example of the above is Russia. Diplomatic, military, economic and subterfuge weapons are being use against Russia to bend them to the will of the USA. The media eg CNN, BBC , newspapers are used to demonize Russia.
    Just an example on what ends America will go through is the story of the Siberian Tigers freed by Putin. The western press calls them “Putin Tigers” as if he physically gave birth to these animals. And the story goes that crossed the border to China to eat some Chines goats !!!

    If American Imperialism will go to such lengths against a powerful nation like Russia, what about us?

    So we should start playing smart otherwise we’ll be speaking Chinese in a few years.
    Come to think of it, I like Chinese girls !

  2. If you want a treaty that will call upon the USA to come to the Philippines defense, then you will need to do as Japan and Europe does with their treaties with the US. You will need to allow a complete Military basing agreement where the Philippines pays for the base and the USA occupies and controls the military base. This is the arrangement in Japan and throughout Europe. The Philippines cannot expect anything free from the USA.

    The Philippines is a weak country that cannot defend itself against ANY threats. You need to realize this and start making the appropriate defense treaties with the USA and other western powers (Australia, Japan, etc.) in order to expect a secure future. Or learn to speak Chinese as it will soon be the national language of the Philippines.

  3. OK, folks, typhoon Ruby is on her way, with anticipated Yolanda-level winds. When the USS George Washington arrives with CH-53’s and V-22’s full of food and relief items shortly thereafter, we’ll talk again.

    What most of you fail to understand is that we Americans view the people here as part of our family, unlike the Chinese, Vietnamese or Thais. There are millions of Filipino-Americans who want us to be here on a permanent basis to help. There was never any concern over the Chinese invading the Islands. Never.

    No matter what you say or how verbal the perhaps 3-4% of your population irrationally expresses its dislike of the United States, we will always lend a hand. It’s what we do. And, when you emigrate to the US, its what you, as Americans, do as well.

  4. Basically you are annoyed at USA not protecting your territorial claim. The real problem is its not just China claiming some of the areas you do. Then the problem of keeping peace in South East Asia and not starting a war over a silly dispute that nobody was worried about till the mention of gas and oil. Its the UN that these dispute should be settled. I assure you if any of your main Islands that you have no silly disputes over US would be there on you side with ground troops and the whole might they can spare. .

  5. What absolute drivel! The facts are this. Your governments total negligence in providing minimal defensive posture to protect the nation. Account for the last 25 years Mr. Saludo!! Crooked politicians taking taxpayer funds for themselves. When will you take responsibility instead blaming someone else. Your article should read: Conveniently blaming the US. Have a nice day!

  6. US will come to help only when its interest in the Pacific region is under threat, and its clear that the disputed areas are out of the pacific area.

    So MDT is not an assurance that US will aide us if we are under attack,US commitment under MDT is to secure its interest in the Pacific, and that interest is not pro Philippines but purely US.

  7. Let’s face the facts. The government cannot protect itself from terrorists much less any country. Defense treaties should be signed for our own protection. The problem we have is that we have a tyrant called Aquino who does believes he is not subject to any rule, ordinance, law, or constitution. He regularly bends and breaks rules, laws and the constitution to do what he wants. We need to keep clipping the powers of the Presidency until we return to a functional 3 branch government. The SC will throw out the EDCA. Then the Senate must stand up.

  8. The more pressing problems our country are facing are the secessionist, the seemingly unsolvable Abu Sayyat headaches. Channeling our resources to end these menace would be worthier than spending our resources to defend an imagined foreign invasion. If U.S. wants to help us get rid of these national problems, this is where we need them instead of provoking with military exercises. We need to refocus our aim. The EDCA is unproductive.

  9. Dominador D. Canastra on

    Sir, are you and Mr. Makabenta forming a an anti-US Communist Party of the Philippines allied with the Communist Party of China?

  10. Remove all American troops from our territory. If our American friends want to stay, they should pay for the privilege like ordinary tourists.

  11. It is obvious that since the U.S. closed down its military bases in the Philippines, China started to flex its muscles in South China Seas. Can you cite any instance of Chinese incursions, as is happening now, during the time the U.S. Bases were operating in the Philippines. I doubt you can cite any single incident because there was none. This if a fact, Mr. Saludo.

    • Thank you for your comment, Simounii.

      There were two military incidents involving the Philippines and rival claimants in the Spratlys: with Taiwan over Itu Aba in 1971, and with South Vietnam over Southwest Cay Island in 1975. In both these incidents, the U.S. did not intervene, consistent with its policy of not taking sides in territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

      Judging from President Obama’s lack of clarity on how America would respond in the event of hostilities between China and the Philippines over disputed islands, the U.S. policy seems unchanged even under the EDCA.

      As for China, its capability for power projection into the Spratlys area of the South China Sea emerged only in the mid-1990s, after the U.S. bases in the Philippines were gone. The same can be said for Beijing’s reach into the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands in the East China Sea, where Sino-Japanese incidents have occurred only since 1996.

      As expected, China adjusts its territorial moves depending on how other countries, especially the U.S., respond. When America did nothing during China’s seizure of Mischief Reef from the Philippines in 1995, the Chinese may have been emboldened in Scarborough Shoal in 2012.

      On the other hand, China got a different U.S. signal in the Senkakus, given the clear American commitment to defending Japan’s control over the islands, demonstrated by the flight of two B-52 bombers to challenge Beijing’s air defense identification zone over the disputed territory.

      Thank you again.

  12. P. Akialamiro@yahoo.com on

    Pardon, Mr. Saludo. the ‘student’ government of this administration is being ‘exposed’. It would seem to me that MTD between America and the Philippines is quite clear on the issues of defense when actual military attacks.happen. How could this fact be missed?

    • Thank you for your comment, Mr. Akialamiro. Here is what the MDT says on how signatory nations would respond during attack. As seen below and noted in the article, unlike the clear and immediate military response committed to Japan and NATO allies, the MDT only stipulates action “in accordance to constitutional processes”, plus the immediate notification of the United Nations Security Council. Thank you again:

      ARTICLE IV. Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.
      Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.
      ARTICLE V. For purposes of ARTICLE IV, an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.