MALACAñANG on Wednesday defended the enhanced defense cooperation agreement (Edca) that it had signed with the US government, saying the security deal intends to make the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) at par with the US military.
Edca, according to Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda, is mutually beneficial to the United States and the Philippines.
“We believe that this [agreement]will not only benefit them, but will also benefit us in terms of enhancing our military capabilities, improving our training, sharing of resources, for instance. What is important, for instance, is inter-operability and also capacity-building and that’s [what]we’re doing,” Lacierda said.
The Philippine military at the same level as that of the US would make reciprocity more than a buzz word, he added.
“How can we do mutual assistance when one side is not up to par with the other side?
So we need to improve the level of capabilities insofar as where we are lacking. That’s where we can enhance the training capability or the training, or the capability of our Philippine military,” Lacierda explained.
Another benefit from Edca, according to him, is the modernization of military hardware of the AFP.
Lacierda said while the government is ready to defend Edca’s legality, it expects those in Congress and other critics to challenge the deal’s constitutionality.
“We believe in certain principles outlining, governing [Edca]. And if there are some people who would choose to avail of judicial processes to question [its]constitutionality, the government is prepared to defend Edca,” he told a news briefing.
The Palace official said they anticipate people “to hold different views and opinions” on the nature of Edca.
He, however, insisted that the agreement does not violate the Constitution.
Edca, Lacierda said, will be scrutinized by the Senate although they firmly believe that it does not need ratification by the chamber.
“But again, the Senate, some of the senators, hold a different view,” he added.
“There are some senators who support us. They have made their statements very public. There’s also Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago who holds [an opinion]that this requires Senate ratification,” Lacierda said.
When asked on the threat of Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares that his group would question Edca at the Supreme Court (SC), the Palace spokesman replied that such statement was not surprising.
“In any event, my good friend Neri Colmenares is going to file a case before the [SC].
That is not a surprise for us if Bayan Muna or Neri would file a case,” Lacierda said.
“It is clear that in the provision of the Edca, the US ‘would not establish a permanent military presence or base in the Philippines. US access to and use of designated areas in AFP-owned and -controlled facilities will be at the invitation of the Philippine government’,” Lacierda said.
He added that there are certain features in the agreement that would “ensure that the Philippines would have a say in everything that the Americans will do.”
Edca, valid for 10 years, also has provisions on humanitarian assistance and defense relief.
Noting that the rainy season is just a month away, Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian of Valenzuela City (Metro Manila) also on Wednesday said, “The government should put more emphasis on the disaster preparedness and response [component]of this agreement.”
While it is yet unclear how Edca could help in post-Yolanda efforts, Rep. Jerry Treñas of Iloilo said it is possible that the deal will make available services of experts in rehabilitation of severely damaged areas.
This is in view of the vast experience and expertise that the US also has in coping with natural disasters, he added.
Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. of Iloilo and Romero Quimbo of Marikina City (Metro Manila) also on Wednesday said Edca will not compromise Manila’s claim to its exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) before world tribunals.
“The support of [Obama] and the United States would not jeopardize the claim of the Philippines before international arbitration. In fact, it sends a strong message to China that it should abide by international laws in settling disputes,” Tupas, chairman of the House Committee on Justice, said in a text message.
Manila and Beijing are bitterly fighting over resource-rich territories in the South China Sea.