Enrile: Yolanda not justification for US-PH deal

HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE.  A US military helicopter delivers relief aid near Balangiga City, Samar Province after Typhoon Haiyan hit the east coast of the Philippines, on November 16, 2013. Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP

HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE. A US military helicopter delivers relief aid near Balangiga City, Samar Province after Typhoon Haiyan hit the east coast of the Philippines, on November 16, 2013.

Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – For Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, even the world’s most powerful typhoon cannot be used to justify the increased rotational presence of American troops in the Philippines. 

Enrile opposed the position of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who said that foreign assistance during Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) demonstrated the need to allow increased US troop visits as part of the planned framework agreement between Manila and Washington.

“I respect his opinion, but I don’t think that is [reason] enough because we do not always have that kind of a problem. Otherwise, the anticipation of such a disaster or any contingency will be a justification for the presence of other troops in the country,” Enrile told reporters on Tuesday, November 26.

The former defense minister and former Senate President said there are many aspects of the proposal that must be scrutinized.

“We have to see how frequent the rotation is because if there is a permanent presence in the country, who will provide the logistics for the American troops and their quartering? Where will they be quartered? In Philippine facilities or American facilities? There are a lot of questions there,” Enrile said.

Enrile was reacting to the proposed deal that aims to allow more US troops, aircraft, and ships to pass through the Philippines. The deal is part of the Obama administration’s so-called pivot to Asia, Washington’s effort to rebalance its priorities to the Asia-Pacific amid a growing China.

On Monday, Del Rosario said the US humanitarian assistance during Yolanda “accentuates the main purposes of the framework which is to make humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and response a very major aspect of the agreement.”

Arizona Representative Trent Franks echoed the foreign affairs secretary, saying that it is better for the Philippines and US military to stick together.

‘Deal must go through Senate’

The Philippines used to host US military bases but the Philippine Senate voted to close these in 1992. The US has said the new deal is not aimed at creating new bases but only to allow for a greater “rotational” presence.

The deal is meant to be an executive agreement, not a treaty. A treaty requires Senate consent. 

Legal luminaries like Enrile and Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago though said the deal must have the approval of the Senate.

“I think it will have to come to us. It will become an amendment of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) because there’s a prohibition in the Constitution regarding the establishment of foreign military bases in the country. It depends upon the way they will craft the relationship,” Enrile said.

In a previous speech, Santiago said whether the deal is an executive agreement or a treaty, it must pass through the Senate.

Santiago cited Executive Order No 459, which defined an international agreement as “a contract or understanding regardless of nomenclature entered into between the Philippines and another government in written form governed by international law whether embodied in a single instrument or two or more related instrument.”

The senator said, “Thus, under this definition, an executive agreement falls under the category of international agreement; and under the Constitution, any international agreement requires the concurrence of two-thirds of all senators.”

As for administration ally Senate President Franklin Drilon, he told reporters that any deal must adhere to the Constitution’s ban or permanent foreign bases in the country.

Drilon has called on the foreign affairs and defense departments to brief the Senate on the deal.

“The devil is in the details. As a senator, it is my obligation to our people to ensure that any agreement the government will enter into is legal and in accordance with our Constitution. I will examine the outcome of the negotiations to see to it that it will not infringe on the lives of our people and their guaranteed rights,” Drilon said in a past statement.

Drilon said in August that as long as the deal “respects limitations” under the Mutual Defense Treaty and the VFA, Senate ratification will not be needed.

The two agreements are treaties concerning foreign troops that the Senate ratified.

Militant groups oppose the proposed US-Philippines deal, saying it circumvents the constitutional ban on permanent bases and may undermine Philippine sovereignty. – Rappler.com