POSTSCRIPT / May 4, 2014 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Disputed isles in China sea outside MDT cover?

NEW MORALITY: By the government’s selective handling of pork barrel cases, is it instituting a New Morality, or teaching a new code of conduct to our children that in this country one has to steal big if he has to steal at all?

A petty thief is dragged to jail, often with lumps and bruises, and in disgrace. A top-class pork barrel scammer gets escorted by no less than the President of the Republic to air-conditioned quarters.

Her celebrity co-conspirator is to be set free without criminal charges after she agreed to return part of the loot and consented to being used as a state witness to pin down the political enemies of the administration.

Is the going rate now 60-40 percent under the tuwid na daan? You stole big (e.g. P100 million)? No problem – just return P40 million and testify against the Palace‘s political targets, and you can keep the rest of the loot while winning back respectability and immunity.

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HOSTAGED SENATE: Senate President Franklin Drilon can allow his colleagues to chase, even if belatedly, after the new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that Malacañang signed April 28 with the United States without the advice and consent of the Senate.

The EDCA is a done deal anyway. There is nothing that Sen. Miriam Santiago and a scattering of senators can do about it – unless they want to have their embarrassing pork barrel dealings raked up in the full glare of media.

A P2.5-million commission may be petty cash under the Drilon Senate enhanced rates, but how would a senator babbling against the EDCA look if the lawmaker’s spouse is named in another affidavit as having received that partial kickback for a porky deal?

With those Luyly affidavits hanging over their heads, senators better be on their best behavior.

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REVIEW MDT ITSELF: Although blackmailed into silence, publicity-hungry senators can still stage another of those inquiries covered by national TV, this time into Philippine-American security issues.

After poking into controversial sections and lapses of the EDCA, senators can segue into the PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951 and then on to the Visiting Forces Agreement of 1999. Cited in the EDCA preamble, these bilateral contracts are germane to military bases discussions.

The general line to follow is that the 63-year-old MDT needs substantive updating in light of new geopolitical realities in the Asia-Pacific region.

If Malacañang refuses to submit the EDCA for Senate review and concurrence, Santiago, chair of the committee on foreign relations, can bid higher for a total review of the MDT no less.

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WHAT’S AN ATTACK?: A Senate review of the MDT is in order, given current and evolving realities. There are many key words and phrases in the treaty itself requiring clearer definition.

What is considered an “armed attack”? If a Chinese coast guard patrol fires, as it did recently, water cannons on a Philippine vessel near the disputed Ayungin shoals, is that an armed attack?

It may be plain harassment, not yet an armed attack. But in a hypothetical situation where bullets or rockets are fired, will such an incident be covered by the MDT?

Article IV says: Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.”

Article V adds: “…an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.”

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PACIFIC-FOCUSED: Articles IV and V alone can trigger a debate that will eat up the entire session of the 16th Congress.

What is the Philippine “metropolitan territory”? Is it the national capital, the major cities, or the urban centers? If a foreign missile hits Marawi, for instance, is a metropolitan territory considered to have been subjected to an armed attack requiring retaliation?

What are the “island territories … in the Pacific Ocean” of the Philippines, if any? In the case of the US, we assume Guam may reasonably be a sample territory.

The same Article V mentions such triggers as armed attacks on Philippine or US “armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific” as it talks of island territories in the Pacific Ocean. Of course, they have to fight back to the extent necessary.

We assume that the questions being raised here are answered in the minutes of the MDT negotiations. The Senate should summon the minutes.

The MDT as now worded looks time-locked in the geopolitics of the 1950s. Diplomatic sources, btw, said the anticipated source of aggression being eyed at that time was Communist China.

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NOT COVERED?: Note that Panatag (Scarborough) and Ayungin (Second Thomas) shoals, Mischief (Panganiban) reef and other locations being claimed by the Philippines are farther west of the Pacific.

Are these places that are within the 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines covered by the Pacific protective coverage of the MDT?

Hypothetically, if China attacked and occupied our Marine outpost at Ayungin, can we invoke the MDT and ask the US to please wallop China or help us grab back Ayungin?

The US will spring into action quickly if its own personnel were shot at — not because of the MDT or EDCA but out of self-defense. Still, actual mobilization for war under the MDT is subject to the tortuous US constitutional processes.

On this procedural point alone, the MDT, the mother treaty of EDCA, has to be renegotiated in the light of the geopolitical realities of this decade of the US pivot to the Asia-Pacific theater.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 4, 2014)

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