On November 1992, when the last US ship and helicopter carrier, the USS Bealleau Wood, sailed away from Subic Bay after the Philippine Senate voted 12-11 to reject the extension of the US-Philippines Military Bases Agreement, I said to myself, for richer or poorer, at least the Philippines is on its way to what the Philippine Constitution stipulates as “an independent foreign policy”.
But has anything really changed?
By whatever “divine grace” the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) passed the Supreme Court, I suggest an urgent review. This is a compulsory case study not only in legal wisdom but basic logical distinctions.
My mind has to be disabused if the argument that the US military can “base” in Philippine territory provided it sets-up non-permanent facilities within Philippine bases, is not further debatable and is acceptable only to the distorted minds of Filipino lawyers who are notorious in providing a problem for every solution.
Or that it could be allowable if it were just an executive agreement and not a treaty. Why? The Constitution explicitly prohibits foreign military bases in the Philippines:
Article XVIII, Section 25, of the Constitution states that “foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except (1) under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, (2) when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, (3) and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”
The operative policy is one of prohibition “shall not be allowed”. As such no enabling legislation or executive order, or any ordinance under the Constitution, can be used to allow it, outside of the exceptions enumerated.
In the case of EDCA, the Senate did not concur, the people never ratified, and the contracting state, the United States, never recognized it as a treaty. If these were the minimum standards set by the Constitution for a treaty, could its bar for a simple executive agreement or legislation, be a lot less?
It was not even the presidents of the Philippines and the United States who signed EDCA. The agreement was signed in Manila on April 28, 2014 by Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg. (I mean hello, a member of the Cabinet committing an entire country and its people?)
Regardless of whatever, EDCA shall continue in force automatically unless terminated by either Party by giving one year’s written notice through diplomatic channels of its intention to terminate the agreement.
The deadline for notice of abrogation is April 27, 2023. That is only seven months from now.
This is why a grandiose information war, has to raise the decibels of RP-US relations at an apparent all-time high. This is why Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuale “Babes” Romualdez pushes this to the hilt saying the Americans may use our military bases in case of a Taiwan conflict.
His caveat “if it is important for us, for our own security,” is of course a big hump of horse pucky! because this statement comes within the context of consequences of US Speaker Pelosi’s dalliance with China’s provincial government of Taiwan, and an ensuing hot response by way of blockades by mainland China and live-fire war exercises.
The ambassador has been on an aggressive public relations campaign for a higher visibility since President Rodrigo Duterte left office last June, and his second cousin President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was sworn into office.
Only a “babe” in the foreign service corps, Ambassador Romualdez has been trying to impress his American clientele that he flexes considerable influence in the power corridors of Manila.
His moves are of course closely coordinated with the US State Department and the Philippine foreign affairs secretary, his counterpart ambassador Madam MaryKay Loss Carlson and US Department of Defense, that it appears his moves could be heavily funded by the United States AID. I will not be surprised if the conduit would be the National Endowment for Democracy, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Soros’ Open Society Foundation, or even Blinken’s own thinktank the Center for New American Security.
Even before US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made it to Manila to pay an audience with our new president, Babes had already made inroads leading to the cancellation of the Russian supply of 16 Mi-17 Russian military transport helicopters to the Armed Forces, even at the risk of defaulting a P2billion down payment, for the lame excuse of the Philippines fearing US sanctions linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Quickly, Romualdez announced the Philippines is looking to buy Chinook helicopters from the United States after scrapping a deal with Russia worth P12.7 billion ($227.35 million). The shift is to wake up the pro-American mindset in most officers of the Philippine military, as many of them have had schooling in the erstwhile land of milk and honey.
During his visit, Blinken hinted an “expanded pact” but Marcos Jr. deflected any further serious discussion saying that “the Mutual Defense Treaty is in constant evolution, I’d like to think of it”.
Blinken of course was profuse in assuring the United States would come to our defense if attacked in the South China Sea, seeking to allay concerns about the extent of the US commitment to an aging Mutual Defense Treaty that was signed in 1951 but never ratified by the US Senate.
It appears that the US official has not read the treaty at all because its language categorically invokes “constitutional processes”, which means a resolution will have to be passed by its Congress in order for the US to respond to any attack on the Philippines.
Forty years ago on September 1982, the father of the sitting president ridiculed this provision saying that it meant the American politicians will be debating what to do with the Philippines “while we are already dying over there.”
Blinken must have pulling the wool over the eyes of Marcos Jr. after the US has set a historical record of being the most unreliable ally since they literally abandoned among others, Vietnam, Afghanistan and of late Ukraine. The Americans even sequestered some foreign countries’ currency reserves deposited in the US.
But in case on an attack on the Philippines, there might be some truth to Blinken’s word – the United States has spent $7 trillion for wars in the past 20 years.
Coinciding with his visit, Blinken turned over a paltry but unconditional $50 million worth of “33-million safe, effective vaccines to the Philippines, medical equipment and supplies, and training of Filipino healthcare workers, to boost the vaccine rollout, and support the country’s economic recovery”.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III also recently said the US commitment to Philippine security is “ironclad”, and that US Mutual Defense Treaty commitments extend to Philippine armed forces, public vessels, and aircraft in the South China Sea,” when he spoke over the phone yesterday with Department of National Defense (DND) officer-in-charge Jose Faustino Jr. to discuss opportunities to further modernize and strengthen the US-Philippines alliance.
Besides, who will attack the Philippines?
Certainly not China, with whom we have been having six years of esteemed friendship and cooperation, notably during the Covid-19 pandemic when the Chinese people donated vaccines and sent regular medical supplies to the Philippines, to make up for months of delay in the delivery by the Americans, as promised by both Ambassador Babes Romualdez and then DFA Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin.
China will never destroy the many infrastructures it helped the Philippine with, after she strategically assisted the country post high economic growth during the Duterte administration.
Be that as it may, Ambassador Carlson was bullish in welcoming the arrival of US Coast Guard Midgett (WMSL-757) at the Port Area for a scheduled joint search and rescue (SAR) exercise, with Philippine assets the 83-meter offshore patrol vessel, BRP Gabriela Silang (OPV-8301), BRP Malabrigo (MRRV-4402), BRP Boracay (FPB-2401), and a Coast Guard Aviation Force helicopter.
This is not a novel development. Last year, USCGC Munro (WMSL–755), another ship of the class also based in Hawaii, trained with the PCG and other Philippine maritime agencies.
Last but not least, President Marcos is expected to attend the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)’s annual gathering of world leaders next month.
This announcement has been made not by Antonio Manuel Lagdameo as permanent representative of the Philippines to the United Nations in New York, but by Ambassador Babes.
The date set is September 20, on the first day the United Nations General Assembly starts. According to Romualdez, several heads of state have asked for a meeting with Marcos who may mention “the West Philippine Sea and the 2016 arbitral ruling”.
But why is Lagdameo, who belongs to a clan also close to Marcos Jr., not saying anything? Does he report to Romualdez or Marcos Jr.?
Meanwhile, speaking before Congress, Foreign Affair Secretary told lawmakers, seeking clarification on how the new Marcos administration would handle the country’s dispute with China in the South China Sea “We will not let China forget” about West PH Sea issue.
“Our immediate goal is, while we maintain our position, while we recognize that there are differences, it is important we learn to manage those differences without giving up our position and our concerns,” he added.
But qualifying himself, the only thing he can throw to the lions is “the Hague ruling and the UNCLOS will serve as ‘twin anchors’ of the Philippines’ policy on the West Philippine Sea,” to which the lawmakers, ignorant of international legalities, favorably accepted without much fanfare.
Unfortunately, the Hague ruling and UN Convention on the Laws of the Seas, are not the lynchpin of China counterclaims but historic rights based on customary international law.
China’s claims are based on sovereignty which is superior to the Philippines’ assertions based on sovereign rights. Not just a case of apples and oranges. Exclusive economic zones do not protrude into territorial ownership. Sovereignty is not porous as long as the one who controls the affected area can defend its position, by force if necessary.
But that will be another long story.