MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – “Bottom line: what did the Philippines get out of the Obama visit? Zero.”
Former Senator Joker Arroyo added his voice to criticisms of the military agreement between the Philippines and the United States, saying Manila was shortchanged in the deal.
Arroyo said the Philippines got nothing out of the deal despite its supposed rush to finish it in time for the state visit of US President Barack Obama on Monday.
Like Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago and former senators who rejected the US bases in 1991, Arroyo decried the lack of transparency in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), whose copies were made public only a day after the signing.
“We rushed to sign the EDCA as a gift to President Obama…. No one, but no one, was consulted about its constitutionality or participated in its preparation. It was exclusively Malacañang directed,” Arroyo said in a media statement on Tuesday, April 29.
A prominent human rights lawyer during martial law, Arroyo said the Philippines did not get a categorical commitment from Obama that the US will defend Manila if its territorial row with China escalates into an armed conflict.
“What did we get in exchange? Heaping shibboleths on America’s ‘longest ally,’ President Obama also praised the culinary skills of the White House Filipino executive chef. It was hoped that he would say, at least, that in case Filipino fishermen and Navy supplies go to the disputed islands and the China Maritime Fleet fires at or harasses them, America will strongly caution China so that we don’t get embroiled in a shooting war,” Arroyo said.
The former senator advised the Philippine defense department and the military to look into the 1914 War Plan Orange No III prepared by the US War Department, which outlines America’s defense of the Philippines in case it is invaded.
“It was unearthed in the research of the Civil Liberties Union (Jose Diokno, Lorenzo Tañada, JBL Reyes, Calixto Zaldivar and J. Antonio Araneta, officers), which opposed the extensions of the US Bases, which was to expire in 1977 during the martial law years,” Arroyo said.
“True enough, when the Japanese invaded the Philippines after Pearl Harbor, the US followed exactly the strategy as outlined by the US War Department. There was, in fact, no strategy for the defense of the Philippines except to treat us as a buffer to delay the invader’s southward advance. It saved Australia but not the Philippines,” he added.
Malacañang on Wednesday disagreed with Arroyo, saying EDCA is beneficial to the country.
“We defer in the opinion with Senator Joker Arroyo,” Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
“We believe that this Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement will not only benefit them, but will also benefit us in terms of enhancing our military capabilities, improving our training, sharing of resources, for instance. What is important for instance is inter-operability and also capacity building and that’s we’re doing,” he said.
Lacierda also cited “the modernization of our military hardware” and the emphasis “on humanitarian assistance on disaster response, which we saw very, very clearly in the aftermath of typhoon ‘Yolanda’.”
A critic of the Aquino administration, Arroyo joins Santiago, former senators Teofisto Guingona Jr, Rene Saguisag, and Wigberto Tañada and militant lawmakers in questioning the deal signed without the approval of the Senate. The secrecy in the negotiations of the deal led them to say that the agreement was rushed in time for Obama’s visit.
Considered a major accomplishment of Obama’s 4-nation trip, the agreement gives US troops greater access to Philippine military bases, and allows them to construct facilities and store equipment there, with the consent of Philippine officials.
Malacañang and Senate defense committee chairman Antonio Trillanes IV disagreed, arguing that the deal merely implemented past treaties.
Lacierda said the Palace is ready to face any cases questioning the legality of the EDCA.
“We believe in certain principles outlining, governing the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. And if there are some people who would choose to avail of judicial processes to question the Constitutionality, the government is prepared to defend the EDCA,” he said.
Villar: No need for Senate approval
Senator Cynthia Villar weighed in on the debate, saying she does not see the need for Senate approval because the deal stresses that it will abide by the Constitution.
Still, Villar said the Senate should “at least” discuss the agreement.
“Usually, the one in charge is the defense committee. Isn’t Senator Trillanes the chair? So the discussion should emanate from his committee, but, in general, we should have a caucus and discuss it so that at least we know it, and if there’s a question, it’s answered. I find it quite simple, the agreement is not so complicated,” she told reporters on Tuesday.
Unlike those disappointed by Obama’s lack of a firm commitment, Villar said she had no expectations.
“Of course, they (US officials) will be very safe because they do not want to antagonize China, and we should expect that,” she said. “It was just a reconfirmation of the Mutual Defense [Treaty] but how it will be implemented is an entirely different story. We are about to see the implementation.”
Villar said other Filipinos were satisfied with Obama’s visit despite his pronouncements.
“Alam mo naman ang mga Filipino, we are so pro-American. We are happy. Makita lang si Obama, masaya na ang mga Filipino. I don’t know why.” (You know Filipinos, we are so pro-American. Just seeing Obama makes Filipinos happy.)
She was among 12 senators who attended the state dinner for Obama on Monday, but said she did not line up to shake his hand.
While Obama said the US was not out to contain or counter China, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III saw the military deal as a “strong deterrent” against China’s “provocative or hostile acts” in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea for the Philippines).
Pimentel said the presence of US troops in Asia will be a “strong disincentive” against a possible flashpoint in the sea believed to hold vast deposits of oil and natural gas.
The senator said that beyond the territorial dispute, the deal will help the Philippines fight drug and human trafficking with the aid of high-tech US surveillance equipment and “fast crafts and airborne superiority” to catch traffickers.
“The pact covers a full range of defense cooperation and increased rotational presence of US troops, which would particularly enhance regional collective responsibility in controlling transnational crimes such as illegal drugs and human trafficking, among others,” Pimentel said. – Rappler.com