POSTSCRIPT / May 1, 2014 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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EDCA isn’t any better than old bases accord

FALSE HOPES: Malacañang should see to it that the excitement over the visit of US President Barack Obama does not raise expectation that the United States is now willing to tangle with China over its territorial disputes with the Philippines.

Let us not oversell the Obama visit and the usual pep talk, the stirring speeches about our two countries’ long history of collaboration. Let us not raise false hopes over the newly signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

Actually, nothing much has changed on the ground and out there on the South China Sea. The Chinese intruders are still there. And we Filipinos are back, like ants retracing disturbed pathways, to the harsh reality of having to eke out a living.

It is time we wiped clean our foggy glasses.

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NO PERMANENCE: It is alarming that Philippine leaders, and even media, have been hypnotized by the repetitive mention of the selling point that the latest reincarnation of US military bases is NOT PERMANENT so not to worry.

Of course these “Agreed Locations” (the new alias given the bases) are not permanent! But their temporariness is no big deal, because nothing in the intercourse among nations is permanent. That is a given.

Even the original 99-year virtual perpetual lease of the old 23 US installations, among them Clark, Subic and John Hay, was not permanent. By pulling and pushing together – like what fired-up youths did with the Mendiola barricades — Filipinos were able to get back the bases lands.

Then President Ferdinand Marcos was able to reduce the lease period and raise the rent. Their temporary stay tapered off till the contract expired in 1991 despite the unprecedented street marching of Cory Aquino, then the president!, for the extension of the bases contract.

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WHAT WE GOT: Although counted among Filipinos whose blood commingled with that of American comrades in the battlefield, Mr. Marcos kept driving a hard deal, seeking to maximize the bases’ benefits versus the erosion of sovereignty, abuse of the natives, atbp.

This time, the realists among us ask what President Noynoy Aquino has gotten for us for the Agreed Locations that can be anywhere the US wants them (with Malacañang’s obedient nod).

In return, the Americans promised to be there to help when natural disasters strike. But nations do not need a treaty or an executive agreement before scrambling to help friends in distress.

They also promised to help set up a coastal watch and information-sharing system. We have just been inveigled to get involved deeper in US intelligence-gathering.

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WHAT WE DIDN’T GET: They did not promise to help ferry men and supplies next time we sailed to Ayungin shoal and played patintero with the Chinese coast guard smarting from our outsmarting them last time by maneuvering to shallower waters where they could not follow.

The US also did not promise to grab back for us Panatag shoal off Zambales that the Chinese seized after President Aquino, in a baffling decision, ordered Filipino boats to pull out and surrender that rich fishing ground to the poachers.

Panatag (aka Scarborough), btw, is familiar to Americans. The US conducted in the 1960s a mapping survey of the area some 120 miles from their Subic naval base and even used the area for target practice.

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‘PADINIG’: The EDCA (pronounced “EDSA” for nostalgic effect) does not mention any US promise to give us a few repainted, but disarmed, naval vessels or a flight of jet fighters plucked out from their junkyard.

This despite President Aquino’s making an embarrassing “padinig” during the globally televised joint presidential press briefing last Monday that this Pacific partner of the US does not even have a single jet fighter plane to protect Philippine air and maritime space.

What the 10-page EDCA did mention was that commitments made were subject to the parties’ budgeting and congressional approval. What a convenient excuse for not offering bases compensation similar to those extracted by Mr. Marcos during his time.

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MILITARY NATURE: The agreement did not mention any payment package for the use of the “Agreed Locations”. Was Obama afraid the dollars might just vanish in a DAP type of pork barrel?

Related to funding, one psychological advantage of packaging the contract as a treaty approved by the US Senate is that it presupposes (although does not guarantee) favorable follow-up action such as the appropriation of funds needed to implement the treaty.

Sen. Miriam Santiago had a point in saying the EDCA should be a treaty mutually concurred in by the Senates of the two countries – not really because of that funding aspect, but because of its resurrecting the bases issue already buried in history and lahar.

Calling them “Philippine bases” that are merely being used by foreign troops kunwari to pre-position disaster relief goods will not hide the truth of their military strategic nature.

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NOT JUST BASES: If our leaders have to be true to their oaths to uphold the Constitution, they should insist that bases that are to be set up or used by a foreign power be covered by a proper treaty.

In fact, it is not just bases that must be covered by a treaty. The ban in Section 25 of Article XVIII of the Constitution does not refer only to bases, but also to the local operation of foreign “troops or facilities”.

The insertion of “facilities” must have been an anticipation of the same evasive terminology that the Marcos regime used in 1979 in calling them Philippine bases albeit with US “facilities” on them.

(At this point, let me reiterate my stand on foreign bases: I favor having American bases in pre-agreed areas in the Philippines provided they are authorized by a proper treaty marked by mutual respect and reciprocity.)

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 1, 2014)

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