Only permanent interest: agreed locations


History has taught us that every time a huge economy is bellying up there is a tendency to find a foreign shore to export its basic industry. In the case of the United States, its defense establishment, which is the base of its industrial complex, has to look for foreign shores to be dumping ground of its retiring warships, planes, helicopters, etc. Then if dumping ground is not feasible, defense export receipts become the basis of trade. Such is also what is happening to Russia. After the Cold War, rogue states have been the basis of exporting armaments and ordnance of war.

“Agreed locations” is such a value neutral concept when taken on a stand-alone basis. Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA defines “agreed locations” as “facilities and areas that are provided if by the Government of the Philippines through the AFP and that United States forces and United States contractors, and others mutually agreed, shall have the right to access and use.” Interestingly, under Article 1 (4), agreed locations may be listed in an annex to be appended to this Agreement, and may be further described in implementing arrangements. The use of “may” is directory and therefore not obligatory. This would mean agreed locations can be the whole country unlike then, when it was Clark and Subic.

As the US pivots, so does the Philippine Government by agreeing to the definition of “Designated Authorities” (even that we had to give up!) as contained in Article 1 (5). “Designated Authorities” refer to the “Philippine Department of National Defense, unless the Philippines otherwise provides written notice to the United States, and the United States Department of Defense, unless the United States otherwise provides written notice to the Philippines.” Some apologists of the EDCA have said things have changed and we are in a new paradigm. Pray tell if that definition is one of equals.

Other reservations some Filipinos have with EDCA are its seeming secrecy; the grant of unimpeded access to Filipino military facilities nationwide (Article I, 1 (b) and Article IV, 4); authorization already provided for Agreed Locations (Article I, 2) and basing rights in Article III (covering training, transit, support and related activities; refueling; bunkering; maintenance of vehicles, vessels and aircraft; prepositioning and deployment).

Unlike before there were defined areas under US forces’ control. Now under EDCA, the “Designated Authority shall assist in facilitating transit or temporary access by the US forces to public land and facilities (roads, ports and airfields), including those owned or controlled by local governments” (Article III, 2).

Unlike before there was rent, under EDCA, mutuality of benefits is assumed and hence “the Parties agree that the Philippines shall make Agreed Locations available to the United States forces without rental or similar costs” (Article III, 3). So how the hell can EDCA be beneficial for the entire country? Worst, the Philippines granted “operational control of Agreed Locations for construction activities and authority to undertake such activities on, and make alterations and improvements to, Agreed Locations” (Article III, 4).

Apart from snubbing the Philippine Senate, EDCA also crossed the House of Representatives on the grant of franchise for the use of the Philippine spectrum. When spectrum is quite valuable, the United States will be one of the spectrum lords sitting on it for free.

When the US Bases left the country in 1991, the Philippine government then lobbied the US Congress for Bases Clean Up Fund. Then senator Serge Osmeña and some non-government organizations fought for the clean up fund and what did the US Congress do? It redefined the concept of bases, limiting the clean up on bases found within American territories. Now under EDCA, “Parties shall cooperate to ensure problems that may arise are dealt with immediately in order to prevent any lasting damage to the environment or endangerment of human health and safety.” The EDCA fails to provide in clear and certain terms how it proposes to handle hazardous materials and waste. A lot murkier are spills. We seem not to have learned a thing or two of what we found in Subic and Clark,

Clearly, as in politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests and again, our uni-dimensional track in foreign policy has led us to a very skewed EDCA, truly insulting of EDSA.

Finally, the piece-de-resistance is the period of ten years (covering three administrations, which Article XII (4) provides that “it shall continue in force automatically unless terminated by either Party by giving one year’s notice through diplomatic channels.” Clearly, EDCA removes the elected representatives of the people from the equation.

Procedurally, the whole process was not open to the public despite being heralded as one of the countries under the Open Government Initiative of the United States. Even the Senate was not given a heads up despite its constitutional role and its institutional position in 1991 disapproving the 1991 Bases Accord.

The framework for the approval by the Executive, in particular the Secretary of National Defense was that the EDCA was a derivative agreement of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA, signed 1998) emanating from the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT, signed 1951). In between those years was the 1987 Philippine Constitution. From AEDC to EDCA to a primer and an unsigned copy released by Malacañang, whatever happened to the joint mantras of transparency and accountability of the Aquino administration?

23 years ago on September 16, 1991, 12 Senators stood tall and sovereignty prevailed by a vote of 12. After more than 400 years we were allowed to determine our future. Then as it is now, majority of the Filipinos wanted the US Bases. Might as well be the 51st state so we do not have to belabor the obvious. And since we are at it, the Saguisag formula of having Ayungin and Scarborough shoal be part of the Agreed Locations should be supported. Pivot or rebalanced, whatever and however it is put together, the nuance, including disaster assistance smacks at a 51st state without the statehood and the star.


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