The “Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement” (EDCA) that President Aquino entered into with the United States was copied, very badly, however, from the military treaties the US entered into with two Balkan countries, Romania in 2005 and Bulgaria in 2006. That was during the height of the America’s Global War on Terrror and when these countries were trying very hard to prove that they would be good European Union members. (Both joined the EU in 2007.)
Drawing lessons from its invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, during which its supply lines were dangerously thinly stretched, the US transformed these Balkan countries’ military bases as its “forward operating sites” (FOS), as Pentagon jargon puts it, for conflicts in the Middle East and Eastern Europe (such as the Bosnian war)—without the huge costs required by permanent bases.
Russians, though, naturally felt they were these FOS’ targets, in the 21st century’s version of the 1950s Cold War. And what is Russia to the Bulgarian and Romanian FOS, China is to the Philippine FOS, at least in the Chinese view.
“Informally dubbed ‘lily pads,’ such sites would allow rotational or periodic access for training purposes while also providing readily ‘expandable’ facilities with pre-positioned equipment,” states a study of the European Center for Security Studies. [Moldovan, D. et. al. "Joint Task Force East and Shared Military Basing in Romania and Bulgaria,” Occasional Paper Series, George C. Marshall Center For Security Studies. 2009.) This was, the study pointed out, America’s new, cost-effective "(military) basing paradigm” in the 21st century.
FOS laboratory in East Asia
With EDCA, the US will be making the Philippines its FOS laboratory in East Asia, using the Bulgarian and Romanian deals as its template.
There’s one big difference though in our pact with the US, and it reflects this administration’s thinking that it can ride roughshod over other branches of government, especially with a Senate that has been the most whimpy legislature in our history, the Senate most servile to any president.
Complying with their constitutions, the Bulgarian and Romanian governments asked their parliaments to approve the pacts.
This took some time in the case of Romania, whose bi-cameral parliament of a Chamber of Deputies and a Senate approved the country’s defense agreement only in May 2007, or 17 months after US State Secretary Condoleeza Rice and her Romanian counterpart signed the pact in December 2005. The unicameral Bulgarian National Assembly on the other hand ratified the pact just a month after it was signed in April 2006.
In our case, the Aquino government has declared that there’s no need to get the Senate’s approval. It claims that the new pact is just part of the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement of 1998 which was ratified by the Senate.
That is an absurd claim. The VFA provides the legal framework (visa requirements, tax-free status of US forces’ imports, and, mainly, jurisdiction over US personnel committing crimes) for US armed forces’ personnel participating in joint military exercises with the Philippine military in our territory.
This is so different from the new pact’s main provisions, which will convert parts of our military bases into American military forward operating sites for pre-positioning its war material.
Constitution is categorical
Our constitution is even more categorical than the Bulgarian and Romanian constitutions, because of the strong anti-American sentiment among the framers of the Constitution, partly because the US, concerned about its bases, had propped up the Marcos dictatorship. Section 25, Article XVIII of our Constitution says:
“Foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”
I can’t see how this government can stretch logic and language so it could skirt such very categorical provisions of the Constitution, how it can claim that US military structures built to house American pre-positioned war materiel aren’t “foreign military facilities” or that the American troops manning them aren’t “foreign military troops” on Philippine soil.
Many provisions in the Philippine EDCA were lifted verbatim from the US agreements with Bulgaria and Romania. Only the word “enhanced was added to the “Defense Cooperation Agreements” title of the pact the US signed with Bulgaria.
If you read the two Balkan treaties and then the recently signed EDCA, you’d strongly suspect that the Americans simply pulled out of their computer files the Bulgarian and Romanian treaties, inserted the word “Philippines” into the relevant portions, and told the negotiators, as is the rumor circulating now in the foreign affairs department: “No defense agreement, no Obama visit.”
“The United States forces, United States contractors and their employees, and vehicles, vessels and aircraft operated by or for the United States forces have authorized access to and may use agreed facilities and areas for training, transit, support and related activities, refueling of aircraft, temporary maintenance of vehicles, vessels and aircraft, accommodation of personnel, communications, and for staging and deploying of forces and materiel, with the purpose of conducting security cooperation exercises, joint/combined training activities, humanitarian and disaster relief activities, contingency operations and other missions.”
That’s from the defense cooperation agreement between the US and Bulgaria signed in 2006. Spot the difference, our “enhanced defense cooperation agreement” signed last week reads:
“United States forces, United States contractors, and vehicles, vessels, and aircraft operated by or for United States forces may conduct …training; transit; support and related activities; refueling of aircraft; bunkering of vessels; temporary maintenance of vehicles, vessels, and aircraft; temporary accommodation of personnel; communications; prepositioning of equipment, supplies, and materiel; deploying forces and materiel; and such other activities as the Parties may agree.”
“This Agreement shall have an initial term of ten years, and thereafter, it shall continue in force automatically unless terminated by either Party by giving one year’s written notice through diplomatic channels of its intention to terminate this
Agreement.” It’s the same paragraph word for word, in the US agreements with Romania, Bulgaria, and us.
We were however demoted a bit from the level of respect given to Bulgaria (population: 7 million) and Romania (21 million). It was then state secretary Condoleezza Rice who signed the agreements with Bulgaria and Romania; here it was the US ambassador, in state department hierarchy about four ranks below the secretary who signed the agreement with the reportedly sober defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin.
25,000 troops allowed
There is another very important difference in the Philippines’ military pact with the US compared to those of Romania and Bulgaria.
The treaties of the two Balkan countries specify that only 2,500 US military personnel may be deployed in each of their countries at any time. In case of an overlap of two deployments, a maximum of 5,000 US troops may stay in their countries, but only for three months.
In our case, there is no such limit to how many US troops the treaty allows to be deployed in “agreed locations” in our military camps.
They could even deploy a US Special Forces division of 25,000 troops—which could certainly be accommodated in their former bases in Clark and Subic—and Aquino’s treaty would allow that. And I thought, Bayan Muna congressman Neri Javier Colmenares was off his rocker, as he is often, when he claimed that the new treaty would make us the US “biggest military base in the world.”
Whether the new pact will be beneficial to us or not, what is certain is that if the Senate reneges on its duty to ratify it, it will very seriously weaken our Constitution’s integrity and that of our republican form of government. Senate President Franklin Drilon will go down in history as the Aquino stooge who refused to exercise the Senate’s very clear responsibility under the Constitution.
On Friday: A fine mess Aquino has put us into with his military pact with the US.
FB: Rigoberto D. Tiglao