The 8th round of talks between the Philippine Department of National Defense (DnD) and the US Defense Department finalized the draft on Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the two countries. This new agreement will be one of the highlights of U.S. Pres. Obama’s visit in the country at the end of the month.
Note that it was the US who drafted the document before the start of the talks last August 2013. Note too that the draft was never been made public. Each round of talks ended by issuing motherhood statements like respect for Philippine constitution and laws, respect for the country’s sovereignty and safeguard for the environment. The specific contents of the document were never revealed. The veil of secrecy of the talks and its outcome is a contrast to say the least with how the talks proceeded between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Until now, the US remains to be the dominant superpower in the country and continues to extend its influence on the affairs of the country. After the termination of US bases in 1991, both the US and the Philippine governments were already “considering ways to bring US troops back in the country on ‘mutually agreeable’ terms.” Political expediency dictates that US bases would not be built in the country for these were “perpetual symbols of colonization, foreign domination and infringement on Philippine sovereignty.”
On the same year, both agreed to pursue the bilateral exercise, “Balikatan” (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) along with customary military activities such as ship visits, aircraft transit, and US aid during Philippine natural disasters. In 1996, the annual Balikatan exercise was substantially larger than in previous years, and for the first time, involved all branches of services from both countries including one Philippine and one US army brigade.
For the next two years, US and Philippine negotiators deliberated over what would become the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). With President Estrada’s imprimatur, the VFA was signed by the two countries in 1998 and ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999. The government described the VFA as the implementing agreement of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). Circumventing the constitution, VFA did not clearly define how often and how long US forces were allowed to “visit”, or limit their scope of travel throughout the country.
By 2001, The US Joint Special Operations Task Force- Philippines (US JOSTF-P) was formed as part of the US’ Operation Enduring Freedom. It was directly under the US Pacific Command and made the whole of Mindanao as its operational area. The task force consists of rotating units of special forces of the U.S. Army and Air Force, Navy SEALS, Psychological Operations, and other U.S. military personnel. Since the middle of the last decade, an average of 500-600 JSOTF-P personnel (down from nearly 2,000 in 2003) are deployed in the country.
Now comes EDCA, a document described as anchored on the “mutuality of benefits”. Simply put, it is a new basing access arrangement for US troops. The new agreement will allow an increase of number of US troops in the country, allow US troops access to all Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) facilities and increase the pre-stationing or storage of US materials (weapons, ammunitions), aircraft, sea craft, land transport and all sorts of logistical supplies.
The new agreement is also linked up in the building of the country’s minimum credible defense. Still, the new agreement does not commit the US to spend in modernizing the country’s defense especially with our expansive archipelagic territory. It is the Philippine government that will spend on upgrading of former US military infrastructures and building of new ones in new sites for the use of US troops. The money will come solely from the national coffers, specifically from the budget for defense as well as from the presidential discretionary fund. In other words, it is the people who will spend for the use and stay of US troops in our facilities.
The Filipino peoples subsidizing the presence of US troops in the whole country is indeed absurd. This new basing arrangement again shows that the Filipino people’s exercise of sovereignty continues to be curtailed and violated by the power relations imposed by the US as the real sovereign power over the Filipino people.
With this new challenge and situation, let us pool all our efforts to frustrate the latest maneuvers of the US infringing on our national sovereignty.
– Scrap VFA Movement