By Alito L. Malinao
MANILA, May 2 (Xinhua) -- After the euphoria brought about by the two-day state visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to Manila on April 28-29 where he extolled the 10-year Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) as a reaffirmation of the close ties between the Philippines and the U.S., the hard reality is now emerging.
And developments in the next few days could actually derail the implementation of the agreement that could give the U.S. military a "free ride" in Philippine military facilities.
Top leaders of the Philippine Congress, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives, said that they would question the legality of EDCA and that it should first be ratified by the Senate.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said he would seek a consensus on the agreement that grants the U.S. " unimpeded" rent-free access to certain areas in Philippine military bases two decades after the shutdown of Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base, two former largest overseas American military facilities.
"Of course the allies of the President (Benigno Aquino III) would want it to be part of the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement), so there's no need for the Senate to concur. But traditionally, the Senate wants to uphold its power and will insist that it exercise its sovereign power," Cayetano said.
The VFA allows the entry to the country of U.S. military personnel and equipment during joint military exercises. But the agreement has been circumvented since a number of American servicemen have been stationed in Mindanao for a longer period of time purportedly to assist the Philippine military in its anti- terrorism drive, particularly against the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militants.
Cayetano said that it is his belief that the agreement constitutes a treaty requiring Senate ratification, adding that under the EDCA, the U.S. would enjoy the same if not more privileges than it did in the previous military bases agreement, which the Philippine Senate abolished in 1991.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, has asserted that the EDCA should have been submitted first to the Senate for ratification before it was signed.
Several members of the House of Representatives said that they would question the constitutionality of the agreement before the Supreme Court.
The Philippine Constitution prohibits the establishment of foreign military bases or the stationing of foreign troops or facilities in the Philippines except under a treaty duly ratified by the Senate.
"The agreement promises to promote the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines yet it is not clear how this can be accomplished if our country is relegated to being a weapons depot and our soldiers become the glorified security guards of U.S. troops and their equipment," Bayan Muna (Country First) Party Representative Carlos Zarate said.
Zarate criticized the provision that prevents the Philippines from getting a third-party arbiter in case of disputes. "This is scary and alarming. Why should the Philippines allow its hands to be tied like this? We will be at the losing end, once again," he said.
Representative Neri Colmenares, another Bayan Muna assemblyman, said under EDCA, the Philippines will become "the biggest U.S. military base in the world."
"By the stroke of a pen, through the EDCA, the Aquino government cedes all of Philippine sovereignty to the U.S. and makes us second class citizens in our own country. This agreement is very unequal and extremely disadvantageous to Filipino interest, " Colmenares said.
Colmenares said that under EDCA, U.S. forces and their ships and planes may use Philippine facilities for training, maintenance of vessels, prepositioning of military equipment such as jets and warships, as well as staging ground deployment of forces.
"This will make the Philippines a forward base or a launching pad of the U.S. and can attack other countries and may be attacked as well. This is against the spirit of the Constitution and drags us into all the wars of the U.S.," Colmenares said.
The lawmakers said that despite virtually allowing the whole country to be an American military base, the Philippines would not be getting much in return.
After eight months of negotiations, EDCA was finally signed in Manila on Monday hours before the arrival of President Obama to expand the rotational presence of American forces in the Philippines amid the escalating tensions over maritime dispute between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea.