Govt told: Answer petition vs PH-Japan defense pacts

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The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday ordered the government to answer a petition seeking to revoke two recently signed defense agreements between the Philippines and Japan.

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Saying the agreements were unconstitutional because they had not been ratified by the Philippine Senate, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) party-list group last week asked the High Court to strike the pacts down.

During en banc deliberations, the SC gave the government 10 days from notice to lodge its comment through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).

Arguments between the two sides will serve as a basis for the tribunal to give or not give credence to ACT’s petition.

The petitioners, led by ACT party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio, particularly questioned the constitutionality of the Memorandum on Defense Cooperation and Exchanges between the Ministry of Defense of Japan and the Defense Department of the Philippines as well as the Japan-Philippines Joint Declaration on the Strengthened Strategic Partnership for Advancing the Shared Principle and Goals of Peace, Security and Growth in the Region and Beyond.

In their petition for certiorari and prohibition, they also asked the High Court to “prohibit the presence of Japanese military forces within the Philippine territory.”

The petitioners also sought issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop implementation of the assailed agreements.

Named respondents in the petition are President Benigno Aquino 3rd, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Hernando Iriberri of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine Navy Flag Officer-in-Command Vice Admiral Jesus Millan.

The petitioners argued that the respondents committed grave abuse of discretion when they entered into the defense agreements and implemented them through the conduct of joint military drills in Philippine territory with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.

The memorandum, which was signed in Tokyo on January 29, 2015, aims to promote cooperation in maritime security, provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and cooperation in the aspect of training activities and exercises.

The joint declaration, meanwhile, particularly states the strong commitment of both countries “to ensuring maritime safety and security, including in the South China Sea, which is a vital element for peace and prosperity of the region…”

This year, there had been at least two military exercises held in Philippine territory that were participated in by Japanese troops.

The exercises were held off the coast of Corregidor Island on May 12, 2015 and at the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, on June 22-24, 2015.

The petitioners also argued that the agreements allowing the presence of foreign military troops in the country is a violation of Section 25, Article 18 of the 1987 Constitution.

“The Philippines has no treaty with Japan that complies with the requirements of Section 25, Article XVIII of the Constitution..,” they said.

The petitioners added, “Although the joint declaration was signed by President Aquino himself, there was also no indication that it was submitted to the Senate for concurrence.”

They said there is an urgent need for the issuance of TRO or writ of preliminary injunction because of fear that the “unconstitutional presence” of Japanese troops will not end with the joint exercises already concluded, but there will be more to follow pursuant to the signed agreements.

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