SC asks gov't to defend joint PH-Japan military exercises

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Supreme Court (SC) ordered the national government on Tuesday, July 28, to explain within 10 days the legality of the training exercises between the Philippine and Japan militaries.

The High Court took up during its regular en banc session the complaint filed by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) on July 15, which argued that the joint exercises cannot be allowed without a treaty ratified by the Senate because it involves bringing in foreign troops into the country.

"In the matter of GR Number 218833 ( ACT Teachers Party-List Representative Antonio L. Tinio, et al v. Office of the President, DND Secretary, et al), the Court required respondents to comment on the petition for certiorari and prohibition with prayer for TRO and injunction within 10 days from receipt of notice," the SC resolution stated.

In a 37-page petition for certiorari and prohibition, ACT asked the High Court to issue a temporary restraining order or a writ of preliminary injunction to stop the two countries from implementing recently signed agreements between the Philippines and Japan.

The group said the following agreements are unconstitutional based on Section 25, Article XVIII of the 1987 Constitution:

"The substance of the Memorandum and the Joint Declaration, given that they bring the presence of Japanese military troops in the Philippine territory, require that they be via treaty," read the petition.

"Being merely in the form of non-binding agreements, and not having been submitted to the Senate for concurrence and to Congress for deliberation on whether the treaty requires ratification by the people in a national referendum, they should be held unconstitutional, insofar as they are being used as legal bases for the holding of military exercises with the Japanese military," it added.

The Philippines said it will negotiate a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with Japan to strengthen defense ties, but this has yet to be initiated in the Senate. 

The Philippines currently has two treaty allies – United States and Australia – whose militaries conduct regular military exercises with their Filipino counterparts.

This is an issue that Rappler raised in June as the Philippine and Japanese navies held historic drills off Palawan. The former World War II-enemies-turned-allies flew together for the first over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) to simulate search and rescue operations.

Navy spokesman Colonel Edgar Arevalo told Rappler that the exercises – which are "not in the same magnitude" as the exercises with treaty ally United States – are covered by the Memorandum on Defense Cooperation and Exchanges between the Philippine Department of National Defense and Japan's Ministry of Defense in January 2015.

ACT said the memorandum is unconstitutional because it permits the presence of Japanese military forces for various activities.

The Joint Declaration is also unconstitutional, the group said, because it wants to "expand their security operation" through expansion of bilateral and multilateral trainings and exercises.

President Benigno Aquino III, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr, Armed Forces chief Lieutenant General Hernando Iriberri, and Flag Officer in Command of the Philippine Navy Vice Admiral Jesus Millan were named respondents in the petition. –