PH, US militaries sign 426 activities, skip EDCA talks

MANILA, Philippines – Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr and US Pacific Command chief Admiral Samuel Locklear III approved on Tuesday, October 14, a total of 426 joint activities between the two militaries.

"We were joking. Admiral Locklear said, 'Greg, I need another ballpen.' We signed 426 activities. Our pens were running out of ink. That is how many activities we were talking about," Catapang said in a news briefing after the regular Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) meeting.  

They discussed the murder of Filipino transgender Jeffrey Laude allegedly by a US serviceman, maritime security, terrorism, transnational crime, and others except the most anticipated topic – the implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), pending the Supreme Court ruling on the deal's constitutionality.

"We are continuously talking about EDCA. Of course we want a decision on whether EDCA is constitutional or not. Unfortunately, we cannot move forward if there legal impediments. But we continuously dialogue and informally talk about it. There are no final or official dicussions right now on EDCA," Catapang said. 

It is the first time that the MDB-SEB held a formal meeting since the signing of the new military-to-military deal in April 2014. The MDB-SEB has the power to decide on how the EDCA will be implemented.

Catapang said that "if the SC decides that it is constiutional, we will start meetings about the EDCA."

EDCA's 2 new activities

EDCA expands existing cooperation activities to include two new activities. The US military can build military facilities and preposition defense assets in “agreed locations” that have yet to be determined by the two countries.

With one of the weakest militaries in Asia, the Philippines is resorting to EDCA as part of its strategy in securing the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea), where tension ocassionally erupts between claimant countries.

Critics argue that this is de facto military basing, which is not allowed under the Constitution. But the government has maintained that the necessary provisions had been put in place to make sure that Filipino officers have access to facilities that the Americans are going to build. This was an issue that caused an impasse during the negotiations. 

The new deal is being contested in the Supreme Court for supposed unconstitutionality. Critics also protest that the deal is lopsided in favor of the US. (READ: Solgen to SC: EDCA needed to defend West PH Sea)

Laude's murder in Olongapo City, allegedly by US Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton over the weekend, has cast a shadow over the talks on Tuesday.

The crime was committed in the city where the former US Naval Station was located, the same naval station that the US military reportedly wants to be included in the "agreed locations" for EDCA. 

It also recalls the decade-old rape case against US Marines Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, the first case under the Visiting Forces Agreement. (READ: EDCA, Olongapo murder, and the old case of Daniel Smith)

Like Smith, Pemberton was on a furlough after participating in joint exercises with the Philippine military –