PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has the authority to stop the implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the US that allows the rotational presence of American troops in the country.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo made the clarification on Wednesday amid statements Duterte was “misinformed” when he announced that he might repudiate the EDCA because it did not have the signature of former President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
The Manila Times on Wednesday reported that Aquino signed off on the EDCA, when he ratified on June 6, 2014 the agreement signed by then Defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg on April 28, 2014.
“There is a clause in EDCA granting authority to the Chief Executive to stop its implementation. But the President was very emphatic that EDCA needs to be reviewed and studied first before Malacañang will come out with a decision whether to extend its implementation or not,” said Panelo during the weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum at Café Adriatico in Ermita, Manila.
“We have to evaluate the agreement and if we see onerous provisions that are detrimental to the country, then we have to review or remove them,” he added.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella confirmed the legal review of EDCA on Wednesday. “Regarding the EDCA needing the President’s signature, the President’s legal team is addressing the matter,” Abella said in a news conference.
Under the agreement, the US is allowed to build structures; store as well as pre-position weapons, defense supplies and materiel; and station troops, civilian personnel and defense contractors, transit and station vehicles, vessels, and aircraft for a period of 10 years.
In January, the Philippines offered eight bases where the US can build facilities to store equipment and supplies.
The deal is good for 10 years, after which it can be terminated by the Philippines or the US so long as there is a one-year notice.
Jay Batongbacal, University of the Philippines law professor, said the agreement is binding as Gazmin and Goldberg were both authorized to sign the EDCA as representatives of their respective governments.
“Gazmin and Goldberg signed the EDCA publicly and expressly as representatives duly authorized by their respective governments. There is no question that Goldberg, as ambassador to the PH with plenipotentiary powers, was fully authorized as an agent on behalf of the US Government to act with legally binding force,” said Batongbacal in Facebook post.
“Gazmin as Secretary of National Defense was also empowered to sign on behalf of the PH Government because as Secretary, he was the alter ego of then President Aquino,” he added.
In a separate Facebook post, former Ateneo School of Government dean Antonio La Viña expressed a similar stance, saying “the President never signs an international agreement.”
In January, the Supreme Court, in 10-4 vote, upheld the legality of EDCA in the face of China’s aggressive moves in contested areas of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The pact did not need Senate ratification as it is an executive agreement that implements the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States.