THE SUPREME Court (SC) on Tuesday affirmed the constitutionality and legality of an agreement bolstering military exercises between the Philippines and the United States.
In an en banc session, a majority of justices voted to junk motions for reconsideration questioning the January 12 ruling of the high court in favor of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed by the previous Aquino administration.
The decision came on the day US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the Philippines for a two-day visit, and amid tensions between Manila and Beijing over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
EDCA aims to improve interoperability between the Philippine and US militaries and improve the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ capacity to modernize as well as carry out external defense, according to a government briefer.
Other objectives include maritime security, maritime domain awareness and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
With a vote of 9-4, the tribunal denied appeals filed by former senators Rene Saguisag and Wigberto Tañada, Sr. Mary John Mananzan, Prof. Pacifico Agabin of the University of the Philippines, Francisco Nemenzo, Harry Roque Jr. and Evalyn Ursua.
Other petitioners were the Makabayan party-list bloc: Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Gabriela, ACT Teachers, Anakpawis and Kabataan.
In the ruling penned by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, the SC ruled that there were no new arguments presented to warrant the reversal of the January decision.
The petitioners insisted that EDCA violated Article 18, Section 25 of the Constitution, which requires ratification by the Senate of treaties entered into by the Philippine government.
However, Sereno and eight other justices held that the EDCA is merely an executive agreement that implements the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, and does not need Senate concurrence.
Associate Justices Francis Jardeleza and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa inhibited, as they handled the case when they were still solicitor general and chief presidential legal counsel, respectively.
Those who concurred with Sereno were Justices Antonio Carpio, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza and Bienvenido Reyes.
Those who dissented were Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo Brion, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Marvic Leonen.
The SC decision said “the President’s power to enter into executive agreements (different from treaties) not requiring Senate concurrence has been well-recognized and long upheld by the Court.”
“The Mutual Defense Treaty continues to be a valid treaty, which the Court has, as recent as 2009, recognized,” it added.
The high court stressed that “the President must be given a larger measure of authority and wider discretion, subject only to the least amount of checks and restrictions under the Constitution.”
Militant groups claim the EDCA will allow the establishment of US bases as it grants the US military access to certain “agreed locations.”
In a statement, the Philippine chapter of the International League of People’s Struggle, an anti-US bases group, said the ruling “would only mean more anti-bases protests.”