Thursday, May 1, 2014

Obama's Pivot to Asia

President Barack Obama just finished his trip to Asia visiting Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines.  The goal was to pursue America’s global initiative in “pivoting to Asia”.

After reaffirming America’s treaty commitments in Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia, the last leg of the trip was that of the Philippines where an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) was signed.  He had earlier visited Singapore and Australia where similar commitments involving defense were reaffirmed.

PNoy’s critics and some constitutionalists argue that the EDCA, which was signed by U.S. Ambassador Goldberg and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary del Rosario, is considered a treaty and must, therefore, be ratified by the Senate.  Otherwise, it would be considered unconstitutional.

I will not discuss the legality or constitutionality of the EDCA in this issue.  I only know some highlights of the agreement.  But based on the highlights, it seems that the terms and conditions are just enhancements or strengthening of what were already provided in the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) on February 10, 1998.

The VFA, which was considered a treaty, provides “for the resumption of bilateral military exercises between the two parties and their enhanced cooperation.”  It also describes the process in adjudicating criminal cases involving American soldiers.  The Philippine Senate in an 18-5 vote on May 27, 1999 ratified the VFA. 

This paved the way for the return of American soldiers on Philippine soil.  In fact, on February 8, 2000 about 2500 American troops arrived in the Philippines for the first time since they left on November 24, 1992.


The published highlights of EDCA specifically mention some of the ways of “enhancing cooperation” envisioned in the VFA.

The notable ones highlighted are: (Source: GMA NEWS)

A.        U.S. Troop Deployment
            1. Increased rotational deployment of US troops, ships, and aircraft in the Philippine territory but no permanent presence in the country;
            2. US troops may preposition equipment in the Philippines for timely response in the even of disasters;
            3. US troops will only be assigned to the Philippines’ external defense; and
            4.  US troops will provide technical assistance and support as first responders in a disaster.

B.        Use of Philippine Military Facilities
            1.  US troops shall be allowed to use the facilities in several military camps;
            2.  US troops are allowed to construct facilities like housing or hangar in Philippine bases, with prior consent and under full control of Filipino authorities;
            3.  The Philippines shall own all the buildings constructed by US forces, and will not collect rental fees of the use of the facilities;
            4.  Priority shall be given to Philippine suppliers in US military procurement of goods and services; and
            5.  It does not authorize the establishment of US bases in the Philippines.

C.         Assistance for the Philippine Military
            1.  More joint training for air, naval and ground troops particularly on maritime security;
            2.  Enhanced capability for humanitarian relief and disaster response; and
            3.  Acceleration of the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

D.        Scope and duration
            1.  The agreement shall have an initial term of 10 years, with regular bilateral consultations on the implementation of the deal; and
            2.  It is classified as an executive agreement within the scope of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

ADMITTEDLY, despite the hopeful signs of a growing economy as compared to other countries in the region, the Philippines remains weak militarily.  While the PNoy government has made efforts to strengthen our defenses by increasing its budget, it is really insufficient to counter external threats especially coming from bullies like China.

America’s pivot to Asia came at a very opportune time.  As gleaned from the above highlights of the EDCA, the Philippines is reaffirmed as a major non-NATO ally and enhances the country’s goal to fortify its defenses with alliances such as those with the United States, Japan, Australia, and other countries.

I hope that political grandstanding would not hinder or obstruct such efforts.  After all, as President Obama was visiting the Philippines, polls showed that 85% of Filipinos trust the United States more than any other country.


On March 14, 1947, a US-PHL Military Bases Agreement was entered into.  The same agreement was extended for 25 years in 1966. 

US State Undersecretary Richard Armitage (Left), DFA Secretary Raul S. Manglapus and Author (Right)
(Left) US State Undersecretary Richard Armitage; (Middle) DFA Secretary Raul S. Manglapus;
(Right) Author
In the early 1990s, President Cory Aquino designated then DFA Secretary Raul Manglapus to lead the negotiations regarding extending the military bases agreement.  US State Undersecretary/Ambassador Richard Armitage led the US panel.

Both parties came up with an agreement to extend it for 10 more years.  Manglapus’ stand was always for the EVENTUAL withdrawal of the military bases but President Cory Aquino would prefer that it did not happen during her term.

It was presented to the Senate for ratification.  It failed in a vote of 12 against and 11 in favor.  Those who voted against were hailed as the “Magnificent 12”.

More than 60% of the Filipinos wanted to extend the military bases agreement.  So the process of implementing Plan B started.  This was to put the agreement via a referendum vote testing the new People’s Initiative provision in the Constitution. 

But it was not meant to be.  Higher forces intervened.  Mt. Pinatubo erupted and the US voluntarily withdrew its military bases.

I am quite proud to have been an interested close observer in the negotiations involving Manglapus and Armitage.  Privately and behind the scenes, my view had the ears of Manglapus and was happy to have accompanied him in his private meetings on the HILL.

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