MANILA, Philippines – Is the defense department going around the Constitution?
Resigned Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and his fellow senators in the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) questioned the government’s plan to give the United States and other allies greater access to Philippine military bases.
In separate interviews on Friday, June 28, Enrile, Sen Gregorio Honasan II, and Senator-elect Nancy Binay responded to the plan that Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin announced on Thursday.
“That will become an issue before the Supreme Court. I do not know whether we can establish a refueling station for [foreign military troops]. They can visit and refuel, but to establish a facility for them in the Philippines, that is only a subterfuge in effect to go around the prohibition of the Constitution,” Enrile told reporters on the sidelines of the oath-taking of UNA senators in Pasay City.
Enrile added, “Now, if the bases will be the Philippine military bases, then what is the need for putting a facility to service the troops of other countries?”
The longtime senator said the Constitution prohibits the establishment of foreign military bases in the Philippines. He said the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) also cannot be used to justify the plan.
“The VFA does not contemplate the existence of a permanent presence of foreign military troops in the Philippines. They are only supposed to be here on a temporary basis,” Enrile said.
Enrile added that it is unclear if the Philippines’ Mutual Defense Treaty with the US provides legal basis for the plan, considering the prohibition in the Constitution.
“Now, maybe as visiting forces they can come and refuel, but if they will put their own fuel here and their own ammunition dams and their own armaments or whatever equipment they will need for work, it might come under the prohibition of the Constitution.”
Asked how the plan will pass legal muster, Enrile said, “Let the lawyers of the government deal with that.”
Gazmin said Thursday that the plan will not see any new bases or permanent US presence in the Philippines. He said the goal is to expand the standard military exercises US and Filipino soldiers regularly engage in.
The defense chief said government is still drafting the plan.
‘Violates Senate vote’
Honasan agreed with Enrile, saying the plan violates the Constitution.
“It also goes against a decision that the Philippine Senate made a few congresses ago,” Honasan told Rappler.
In 1991, the Philippine Senate rejected the US bases treaty in a vote of 12-11. The 12 senators became known as the “Magnificent 12.” Enrile was among those who voted against the treaty.
Honasan said though that it is understandable for the Philippines to explore options amid tense territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea.
“If national security and our national interest is jeopardized and we don’t have the capability, my view is it’s now time to test if our bilateral arrangements, the VFA, the Mutual Defense Treaty with superpowers like the US have any effect on the situation,” he said.
Honasan said the challenge for the Philippines is to assert its sovereignty despite being a developing country.
For Senator-elect Binay, the Department of Defense must present and explain its plan further.
“Like Sen Enrile, I think the plan circumvents what’s in the Constitution and that’s something we UNA senators will focus on,” Binay said.
She added, “From what I’ve read, they’re going around what is not allowed.”
Global solution for territorial row
The UNA senators were not the only ones to question the proposal. Constitutionalists and activists also expressed fears that the plan may go around the Constitution and undermine Philippine sovereignty.
Yet Binay’s father, Vice President Jejomar Binay, said the government’s plan is acceptable.
“Because nowadays, we must adopt a global approach to resolving problems,” Binay said in another interview.
Asked if the plan will help resolve the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China, Binay said: “It’s hard to say. We will be speculating. We do not know the conclusion of this.” – Rappler.com