A mixed public reaction greeted the Supreme Court ruling, affirming President Aquino’s total exclusion of the Senate from any role in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States, the provision of the Constitution to the contrary notwithstanding. At the same time, universal indignation met Aquino’s veto of the law providing for a P2,000 monthly increase for two million Social Security System pensioners.
The two courses of action are not related to each other. But, occurring at the same time, they jointly impact the people’s view of the outgoing Aquino administration. While some Filipinos see EDCA as the answer to China’s “aggressive behavior” in the West Philippine/South China Sea, many others believe it dramatically increases the risks of war with China, in which the victims will be Filipinos rather than Americans or other nationals. The Save the Nation Movement, for one, called it “the final betrayal.” Even those who believe in “enhancing” military cooperation with the US believe Aquino should have involved the Senate, especially since the agreement will be in effect long after Aquino is gone.
This would have been consistent with Article XVIII, Section 25 of the Constitution, which provides: “After the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning Military Bases, 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 Congress so requires, ratified by the 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.”
But it can no longer be undone. While EDCA’s first audience is clearly China, because of Aquino’s imperial arrogance and boorishness, its first casualty is also clearly the Senate and the Constitution. The ruling has put the President above the Constitution, and the Senate has been completely sidelined as a treaty-making partner of the Executive; the only thing to do now is to abolish it. In principle, the fact that EDCA is but an “executive agreement” means the next President, if he is so minded, could abrogate it. But that would presuppose a total reversal of the country’s foreign policy and national security orientation vis-a-vis the United States.
Unless we become a province of China, I cannot see that happening. The most recent findings by Pew Research in the US show that Filipinos are the most “pro-American” nationals, even on top of the Israelis, who are supposed to be their best allies. The next Filipino president is unlikely to embark on any effort to impeach the SC ruling. But since the agreement has an extendible term of 10 years, it is subject to review at the end of that period, and the sitting president, even if he agrees to renew it, could insist that in lieu of the present agreement, the two parties negotiate a treaty subject to Senate concurrence, if by that time the Senate still exists.
What can be done
Or the government can do what Marcos did with respect to the 1947 military bases agreement. In 1966, he proposed that its 99-year term, which was to expire in 2046, be cut to the next 25 years, ending in 1991. He also pressed for the return of baselands that were not being used by the US armed forces. He demanded that Philippine sovereignty over the bases be clearly spelled out, so that the Philippine flag alone fly over the bases, that they be known as Philippine bases and be commanded by a Filipino commander.
Finally, Marcos demanded that the rent-free provision be revisited to allow for the payment of a decent economic compensation package. This was the Economic Support Fund, over which Henry Kissinger and Gen. Carlos P. Romulo haggled, and which precipitated the fall of Marcos.
Not for offense
The government could also insist that the troops, munitions and facilities deployed under EDCA can only be used for mutual defense of the Philippines and the US, never for offense.
We cannot predict whether street opposition to EDCA, if any, would grow into anything like the political Quarter Storms against Marcos. As of now, there is no sign of it. Various politicians have crossed party lines to denounce Aquino for the SSS pension veto, and to threaten a congressional “override.” But Malacañang’s response has been thoroughly anemic. The government has appropriated P82-billion for Dinky Soliman’s poorly documented Conditional Cash Transfer to the poor, and the SSS itself is able to provide millions in bonuses for its top executives. It has also shown enormous generosity to the leaders of the MILF. But it seems to have extreme difficulty thinking of subsidizing the pension increase.
So one can safely assume the discontent will fester and the two million SSS pensioners and their families could provide the initial base for passive resistance against a “cruel and heartless government.” In Aquino’s defense, some Senate sources have pointed out that the veto could have been avoided if the companion bill providing for funding for the pension increase had not been smothered in the Senate. They lay the blame squarely on the Senate finance committee, chaired at the time by Sen. Francis Escudero, now one of the veto’s loudest critics. Escudero will be back in the Senate, should he fail in his vice-presidential bid.
These are serious problems, but they are just two on a long list. With or without EDCA, or the brewing revolt of two million SSS pensioners, various forces are converging to confront the nation with the gravest multi-faceted problem it has had to face since the Marcos years. The danger could come from ISIS, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Abu Sayyaf, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army /National Democratic Front, and even the long pacified Moro National Liberation Front–all at the same time. The confluence of events may have already begun.
The street bombings in Jakarta are reportedly all ISIS-related. They are too close to our southern backdoor, and could spill over. Our security officers are confident they will not, but there are reports, first aired on Rappler, that the Islamic caliphate in Iraq and the Levant has decided to establish its first Southeast Asian province (wilayat) in Mindanao.
Various other nationals who had been “training” in Syria are reportedly back in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand; only the Filipinos who had been reportedly recruited in the Middle East are not yet back in the Philippines. But some recent violence in Mindanao, including the beheading of a Malaysian engineer during the APEC Summit in Manila last November, and the bombing of power lines and stations in some areas, is said to have been ISIS-influenced.
At the same time, some 40 young Filipino-Americans from the US were reported to be immersed in some kind of “radical tourism” in Surigao–training in revolutionary warfare among the Lumad. These are raw reports that need verification. But southern Philippines has long been known as a laboratory for developing techniques in insurgency warfare.
In northern Luzon, reports persist of repeated arms landings, reminiscent of, though not of the same magnitude as, the MV Karagatan incident during the Marcos years–allegedly from China, for the communist insurgents. Also, several thousand high-powered rifles originally meant for the MNLF had reportedly been turned over by Malaysian intermediaries to the MILF.
The MILF is reported to have received large sums of money from Malacañang to keep its leaders in tow, following the non-passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which seeks to create a new autonomous territory for the rebels. But they are suspected to be using that money precisely to create the very trouble Malacañang wants to avoid. This should not surprise anyone.
But it seems the Moro rebels are not the only ones awash with funds. The communists do not seem far behind either. Just look at the pre-campaign ads of some of their senatorial bets. Some military analysts estimate that the communist insurgency has grown faster and stronger than any insurgency group during the last six years, even as communist politicians have won party-list seats in Congress and have even become involved in the pork barrel scandal. Some of those seeking Senate seats seem to be among the more moneyed in this election.
All this tends to confirm the short-sightedness of policy with respect to the communists. When Republic Act 1700 or the Anti-Subversion Law of 1967 was repealed in 1992, the nation expected the communists to abandon armed struggle as they entered the political mainstream. This has not happened. The NPA continues to engage the police and the military in the countryside, except that, if a suspected NPA member is killed in a police or military raid, the police or military personnel involved could end up being accused of a human rights violation, while the killing of a local policeman or politician is usually declared a “closed case” after the NPA owns the killing.
Meanwhile, the Armed Forces’ ability to respond has suffered lately from poor leadership and poor logistics caused by serious procurement problems. Dense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has been famously heard to say his mandate as defense chief is to see to it that the country is safe and secure until June 30, 2016–but not beyond. About 32 procurement contracts under the Military Modernization Program have failed to move because of questions involving incentives for the intermediaries. Government-to-government offers have been rejected in favor of offers from private suppliers, for obvious reasons.
For whatever reason, only 200 million cartridges have been delivered to the Armed Forces out of 800 million cartridges for standard weapons. At least two deliveries from Ankara, Turkey of 5,500 rounds of 105 mm Howitzer cartridges, amounting to P165,758, 000, were reported to have fallen illegally into civilian hands and cleared through customs, instead of being seized by the authorities, as required by law, before reaching the originally intended end-users.
Indeed, corruption, which includes selling our patrimony and everything else we can sell, has become our first national security problem. It is the battle we must first win. With or without China or EDCA, we are in a serious pickle.