The declaration of Senate President Franklin M. Drilon (FMD) that any military access agreement (MAA) with the United States should ratified by the Senate is most reassuring.
FMD gave this categorical statement in reaction to a proposal by Philippine defense officials to grant US troops access to our military bases because of the mounting Chinese aggression in disputed territories.
“They can negotiate, we will not stand in the way, but if it is a basing agreement, we will call them to task. This is the principle of check and balance. They do their work and we check, in the exercise of our oversight functions, whether or not the Constitution is breached,” he stressed.
It’s most unfortunate that China, who’s supposed to be a friend, has been acting like a bully in the West Philippine Sea and Scarborough Shoal. China has gone a bit too far in staking its claim over these islets while Philippine authorities can only watch in utter helplessness. Perhaps, it was merely riled by the bellicose statements of President BS Aquino and other government officials on the territorial dispute but definitely, China’s show of force is totally uncalled for, arrogant even.
Sure, Congress appropriated P75 billion for the modernization of the armed forces with the hope that it could temper the bullying by China. I believe, however, that that amount is not enough. Our newest warship, a 46-year-old cutter decommissioned by the US Coast Guard, could easily be sunk by the Chinese navy, according to Lt. Gen. Antonio Sotelo (ret.). He said that even if we acquire 12 new fighter jets, we could not stop China from moving into the disputed territories.
At this point, national sovereignty and territorial integrity is in great peril, and we don’t have the logistics or the military hardware to do what we are supposed to do as an independent, self-reliant nation.
At this point, we still have to hear what the government intends to do to assert our sovereign rights over the contested territory. This even as the so-called technocrats and experts on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea have yet to enlighten us on the applicability of the document to our cause.
For the time being, the only practicable option available to us is the MAA with the United States. US military presence could strike a balance in the disputed territories while the Philippines gives higher priority to quelling internal threats to its security.
But first, any such agreement such be within the bounds of the Constitution.
The presence of US troops in the country is based on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that the Senate had already ratified. Therefore, the proposed MAA should be governed by the terms of the VFA. Otherwise, it would need Senate ratification.
Determining such compliance with the VFA is a work cut out for Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and an expert in international and constitutional law.
A caveat—Senator Miriam has been calling for the renegotiation of the VFA to delete the terms that she considers inimical to Philippine interest. I also wonder if she has already gotten over her anger at China for causing the loss of her bid for a seat in the International Court of Justice. Oh yes, she’s on leave from the Senate because of her chronic fatigue syndrome. FMD said he would talk with her about this issue. Perhaps, her vice chairman could take over while she’s indisposed although her ailment shouldn’t stop her from giving solid advice to the committee.
Assuming without accepting that the Philippine government would be skating on thin ice by adopting the proposed MAA in light of the anti-bases proviso of the Constitution, what is at stake now is the more vital issue of ending Chinese aggression and in resolving the territorial conflict not on the battleground but rather thru mutual respect.
With the termination of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the US over two decades ago, American troops vacated their bases here. However, addressing the military imbalance in facing the Chinese bully is still possible. It would take a certain degree of political will (China might even impose economic sanctions against the PH) to hammer out a middle-of-the-road military access agreement with the US that will pave the way for the entry of American troops and materiel into the Spratlys to keep the Chinese vessels at bay.
In a manner of speaking, the MAA serves two purposes: enhance Fil-Am relations while restoring the balance of power in this part of the world. To use an old cliché, that’s hitting two birds with one stone.