THE other day the Supreme Court determined that the agreement signed by the US Ambassador and our Secretary of Defense is binding on the nation and is not unconstitutional. Sometime ago the Senate in a resolution declared that the said agreement had the force of a treaty binding the two nations and had to pass the upper chamber for scrutiny and concurrence. This was cavalierly junked by the high magistrates who gave the go signal for this administration to go ahead and allow the United States to convert some areas in the archipelago into military zones and logistics centers.
This development has raised some eyebrows. Is the new norm to conduct foreign policy which is only an extension of domestic policy based on executive fiat? The Constitution precisely provided for an oversight function for the Senate which is supposed to ratify international agreements in order that the chief executive in the exercise of his responsibility as chief architect in the formulation of foreign policy would be checked and balanced by the upper house which represents the true sentiments of the nation (his bosses).
Incidentally in the UK the act of sending British war planes to bomb ISIS targets required a vote in parliament!
What is a cause for concern is that the high court seems to be complicit with this new order of things even as the Senate is compliant to the same given its apparent lack of reaction which can be taken as tacit approval thereby relinquishing its responsibility to provide “advise and consent” in utter disregard of the power of review granted to it by the Constitution. At least in the case of the BBL, thanks to Senator Marcos’ committee, the upper house was able to review the agreement and propose important amendments which were the proper things to do.
In the case of EDCA discussions in the Senate would have drawn out some important points for clarifications. This would include:
1. The automaticity of retaliation by PhilAm forces on further Chinese incursion on Philippine soil (this is important because the prepositioning of war materiel on Philippine soil and the appearance of US boots on the ground not to mention its sea and air assets places us squarely in the crosshairs of Chinese weaponry. Remember Pearl Harbor?
2. Safeguards regarding US unilateral actions versus third parties if this is in aid of US interest which might not always coincide with those of our republic. In the case of the Korean and Vietnam wars, it will be recalled that Subic and Clark were used as staging areas for US attacks.
3. The amount of hardware the Americans will bring over in aid of Philippine armed forces modernization and the promised prepositioning of logistics for typhoons etc . It will be recalled in this connection that the Mutual Defense Act of 1951 did little to give this nation a credible defense force.
4. The degree and extent of US basing activities and any compensation for the same bearing in mind that in the past there was at least a token rent for the same.
5. Status of visiting forces. If we have more Smiths and Pembertons are they going to get special treatment as in prisoneros caballeros, that is given lodgings in military camps rather than in national penitentiaries with its sub-human facilities which we natives end up in if we commit rape or homicide?
With the fait accompli of EDCA we now have an unenviable situation where the Chinese up north is busy militarizing our claimed outlets and the US militarizing areas within the country. Should these two elephants collide for whatever reason we down under will be trampled upon!
The wonder of it all is that we seem to be going back to square one. The history of the relationship between this country and its erstwhile colonizers has been one about bargaining regarding basing rights. After giving the Americans a 99 year lease for US bases as a pre-condition to the grant of independence, this was shortened under the Laurel-Langley Agreement and further abbreviated during Martial Law. Under the Cory administration the Senate finally removed the bases from our shores.
With the Americans insisting on keeping a forward position in the China Sea to be able to better observe Chinese movements the administration of Gloria Macapagal granted “visiting rights” to US. forces. Shortly after a few undesirable members of the US “visitors” group were charged with rape and homicide respectively in quick succession.
With the decision of the Supreme Court we have gone the full circle – back to basics the Americans would say or déjà vu as some of us would exclaim.
The rationale as presented by the pro-bases people is that this would act as a deterrent to further Chinese incursions into Philippine territory – even perhaps quickly halt further militarization of these islets. But the cynics would dispute this given that the Chinese president told the US President to his face in his last visit to Washington that no power on earth can stop them with going ahead with their activities in the China Sea and Obama just took this on the chin. Moreover the Chinese had already factored the possibility of an EDCA when they went about building their stuff in the islets.
Anti-bases group argue that no less than Obama in his visit to the Philippines had said in no uncertain terms that the China Sea issues should be settled peacefully that war was not an option and that the US would not intervene in the dispute. Moreover, the Americans have said time and time again that the West Philippine Sea issue is not covered by the Mutual Defense Agreement, which in straight English, means that the US will not go to the defense of this country if the pushing match between this country and the Chinese develops into a shooting war!
Another reason forwarded by the pro-bases side is that the EDCA by prepositioning logistics in the camps will allow for a quicker response to serious weather conditions like typhoons etc. Okay! But why not have this humanitarian project be managed by the Peace Corps or by American NGOs.
By the way, whatever happened to the Mutual Defense Agreement signed more than half – a century ago? It has neither produced a credible defense force for this nation nor deterred the Chinese incursion into our territory?
The really major concern is that the EDCA will surely escalate the tension between this country and the Chinese. Of course this serves them right for pushing the envelope too far and overplaying their military card in the China Sea. Nevertheless this development will push the attempts at détente with our giant neighbor farther down the road.
Ambassador Jose V. Romero Jr., PhD, who served in Italy, is President of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations