- The scope is very broad. Article II, Sec.4- The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement ((EDCA) provides US forces “agreed locations” where they can conduct a broad range of activities. The agreement does not set any limits on what areas throughout the country could be accessed by US troops, how many troops can be allowed in these areas or facilities, and for how long these troops will be allowed to stay. For all intents and purposes, the entire country can host US troops. US forces can access and put up facilities in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, making the agreement broader in scope compared to the 1947 Military Bases Agreement where bases were confined to Clark and Subic. There is also the question on the limits of the activities that can be undertaken in the “agreed locations”, for example, if the US would operate secret prisons or rendition sites in the Philippines, which would be contrary to law.
- The EDCA will mean permanent US presence – Article I, Sec.1 (b)- US troops will be given authority to access “agreed facilities” on a rotational basis. The agreement does not define what “rotational” means. In practice, under the VFA rotational deployment would mean the changing of personnel deployed in an area, resulting in the permanent presence of the troops. In Mindanao, 600 US Special Forces are being rotated, resulting in their permanent presence in the island since 2002. Rotational presence is euphemism for permanent presence. The provision that the EDCA will not lead to permanent presence or basing is worthless.
- The US will operate facilities as military bases and will drag us into overseas conflicts– Article III, Sec. 1 – The EDCA grants US force and private contractors access to “agreed locations” where they can conduct a broad range of activities including but not limited to; training, support, refueling of aircraft, bunkering of vehicles, temporary maintenance of vehicles, temporary accommodation of personnel, communications, prepositioning of equipment, supplies and materiel, and deploying forces and materiel. From the description above, the “agreed locations” will be operated as US military bases. One new feature of the EDCA is that it explicitly allows the Philippines to be a staging ground for US operations overseas. This could range from being a launching pad of drone strikes, and other offensive operations that would make the Philippines involved in US conflicts abroad.
- The entire country could be an operating base– Article III, Sec. 2 – The Philippines shall assist transit or temporary access by US forces to “public land and facilities (including roads, ports and airfields), including those owned by local governments, and to other land and facilities (including roads, ports and airfields). Again, the entire country can be used by US forces, making the EDCA much broader in scope than the previous RP-US Military Bases Agreement. It bears stressing that the pact does not define what “temporary access” means, except that it is distinct from “transit” or US forces just passing through.
- US forces will get a lot of perks under the EDCA. Article III, Sec.3 – US forces shall have access to “agreed locations” “without rental or similar costs”. So not only will US troops get unlimited access, they can also stay here rent-free. Article VII, Sec. 1 – US forces and their private military contractors can use utilities such as water and electricity but will be tax-exempt, with their supposed taxes being paid for by the Philippine government. Article 7 Sec.2- US forces will also be allowed radio frequencies free of charge.
- The illusion that we’re in-charge. Article III, Sec.4 – US forces will retain “operational control” of the “agreed locations” and will have authority to undertake construction of permanent facilities and improvement of existing facilities as well as put in place their own security measures. In Article 3 Sec.5, Philippine authorities shall have access to the entire area of the “agreed locations but this will be subject to the “safety and security requirements” agreed upon by the parties. Based on this, PH access to the US operated facilities will still have to go through “safety and security requirements” set by the US. The Philippines will retain ownership of all facilities, at least on paper. Agreed locations, including permanent facilities built by the US will be turned over to the PH once the US no longer uses them. There is the possibility that the US will be compensated for the improvements and construction that they will undertake. So yes, on paper we own these facilities but these will only be returned to us if the US no longer has use for them, and we also might have to pay the US some form of compensation.
- The Philippines as weapons depot. The US will be allowed to preposition equipment in the “agreed locations” and facilities (Article IV, Sec.1). These prepositioned equipment and war materiel shall be for the exclusive use of the US. These include, but not limited to, supplies for humanitarian assistance and disaster response. Weapons and other possible hazardous materials may be among the items that can be stored in Philippines. The country will become a huge weapons depot, where Filipino troops become glorified security guards for the US forces and their equipment (Article VI, Sec 2). Surely this does nothing to help modernize the AFP.
- Our hands are tied. – Under Article XI, the PH cannot bring disputes arising from the agreement to any local or international court or third-party arbitration. All disputes will be settled exclusively through consultations by both parties. This effectively ties the hands of the Philippines and as a Atty. Sarah Arriola pointed out, grants immunity to US troops before the ICC. In cases such as environmental damage similar to the Tubbataha reef grounding of the USS Guardian, the EDCA does not provide guidelines for compensation (Article IX on the environment). Even in the event of the unintentional release of hazardous materials or waste, or an oil spill, the EDCA says the US will take action contain the hazard. However, the EDCA is silent on damages. (A side note, Article IX Sec.3 implies that the US will indeed be bringing in hazardous materials and hazardous waste into the country.)
- The EDCA gives almost the same treatment as regular US forces to private defense contractors. Contractors can have “unimpeded access” to the “agreed locations” and to the prepositioned materiel and supplies (Article IV, Sec.4). US private contractors are notorious worldwide for their violations and for shielding the US government from accountability. EDCA will see a rise in the number of private contractors operating in the country. Article VIII Sec. 1 allows US forces to hire private contractors without restriction as to choice of contractor, supplier or person who provides materiel, supplies and services. These same private contractors are also tax-exempt when it comes to the use of utilities such as water and electricity.
- The agreement is in effect indefinitely. While Article XII Sec 4 says that the agreement is in effect initially for 10 years, “it shall continue in force automatically unless terminated by either Party.” Now given the indefinite nature of the agreement, and the rotational presence of US troops all over country, free of charge by the way, the EDCA is worse than the RP-US Military Bases Agreement.
The EDCA is an affront to our sovereignty. It highlights our unequal relations with an imperialist power. The EDCA violates the 1987 constitution as it ensures permanent presence of US troops and the return of US bases under a broader, more flexible and more insidious arrangement and that this is done absent a treaty. As for the supposed benefits, nowhere in the agreement does it state how the AFP will actually modernize through the so-called joint exercises, rotational deployment of US troops and the prepositioning of weapons and materiel. Indeed, the benefits are close to nil. It is the US who stands to gain from the pact as it gets a stable foothold for power projection and military intervention in Southeast Asia.
Our duty is to fight this agreement, to fight the new US military occupation of our land.