The Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), the oldest association of the country’s legal luminaries, is more receptive to what it described as the more transparent Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between Manila and Washington than the vague Bangsamoro Basic Law.
This was disclosed by Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez of Leyte, the Philconsa president, during a forum on EDCA organized by the association and held in Makati City (Metro Manila) on Thursday night.
During the forum, US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg said EDCA is mutually beneficial because it raises the rotational presence of US military troops in the country, provides for bigger war games than those allowed under the Visiting Forces Agreement between the two countries and enhances Manila’s capability to respond to natural disasters.
“Anything that goes for securing the country will supersede any other technical and legal infirmities that it [EDCA] may seemingly pose because the ultimate goal of the Constitution is to secure the nation,” Romualdez told reporters.
Goldberg a few weeks ago noted that EDCA is rooted in the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and the Philippines and that the commitment of both sides in honoring such vow in case of attacks is “iron-clad.”
“Instead of raising fears, EDCA allays fears because it is more transparent. As for the Bangsamoro [Basic Law], its submission to Congress has long been delayed. Naturally, if somebody explains the issue candidly, you don’t get anxious,” Romualdez pointed out.
Malacañang is yet to submit the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, which will establish a Bangsamoro Region in southern Philippines, for long home to the country’s Muslim minority.
The basic law was a fruit of negotiations between the government and former separatist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front that led to the signing in March this year of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
The Palace has failed to meet the March deadline for submitting the draft law to Congress.
“I have to admit that I am [quite]biased here [in supporting EDCA]because we have seen [the US government’s]huge contribution in addressing our needs when we were hit by Typhoon Yolanda, and we have seen their sincerity. But at the end of the day, the Philconsa is for protecting and defending the Constitution, and the Constitution talks about securing the Filipino people and we are supportive of anything that enhances such ability,” Romualdez said.
Yolanda killed at least 6,000 people in November last year and destroyed P571-billion worth of infrastructure, homes and livelihood.
At least two petitions have questioned EDCA’s constitutionality before the Supreme Court.
These were lodged by former Senators Rene Saguisag and Wigberto Tanada, two of the lawmakers who voted to throw out US military bases from Philippine soil in 1992.
“The reason it took us eight months and eight rounds of formal negotiations and informal negotiations [to come up with EDCA]was that we gave concern to the sovereignty of the Philippines. We wanted to make sure that it [agreement]would meet the constitutional requisites and that it [can withstand]scrutiny legally and politically,” Goldberg said.
“I know of the importance of the constitutional law in any democratic society and the need to follow the Constitution to be able to have a just and free society,” he added.