Increased presence of US troops in PHL needs Senate approval

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013. Filed under: Philippine News
Pio Lorenzo Batino (L), Philippine's defense undersecretary, greets U.S. Department of State Ambassador Eric John during the start of their meeting at the Department of National Defense headquarters in Quezon city, metro Manila August 14, 2013. The U.S. and the Philippines began formal negotiations on Wednesday to increase rotational presence in the country, which includes deploying aircraft, ships, supplies and troops for humanitarian and maritime security operations, local media reported. (MNS photo)

Pio Lorenzo Batino (L), Philippine’s defense undersecretary, greets U.S. Department of State Ambassador Eric John during the start of their meeting at the Department of National Defense headquarters in Quezon city, metro Manila August 14, 2013. The U.S. and the Philippines began formal negotiations on Wednesday to increase rotational presence in the country, which includes deploying aircraft, ships, supplies and troops for humanitarian and maritime security operations, local media reported. (MNS photo)

MANILA (Mabuhay) — The government must get the Senate’s approval first before it can proceed with its plan to increase the presence of American troops in the Philippines, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said Friday.

In a speech, Santiago said a framework agreement on the US rotational presence in the country must still get a go-signal from the Senate regardless of its name or form.

“The Senate’s concurrence is indispensable. To the Department of Foreign Affairs, do not try any tricks. I am right here,” the feisty senator said.

Santiago explained that the executive department effectively lost its authority to enter international agreements on its own due to an executive order signed in 1997 by then-President Fidel Ramos.

Executive Order 459 states the guidelines for negotiating an international agreement, which it defined as “a contract or understanding, regardless of nomenclature, entered into between the Philippines and another government in written form and governed by international law.”

“Under this definition, an executive agreement falls under the category of international agreement. Under the Constitution, any international agreement requires the concurrence of two-thirds of all senators,” Santiago, a constitutional law expert, said.

Section 21, Article 7 of the 1987 Constitution states that “no treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate.”

Increased US presence

Last Wednesday, the Philippine government started negotiations for the proposed increase in the US forces’ rotational presence in the country despite questions on its constitutionality and the possibility that it may become a magnet for anti-US sentiments.

Malacañang, however, maintained that the proposal for increased US presence in the country will be within the bounds of the Constitution and the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

Despite this, Santiago said the government and the US should not just use terminologies to circumvent the constitutional ban on foreign military bases and troops in the country, except under a Senate-approved treaty.

“Itong mga Amerikanong ito talaga mahilig gumawa ng iba-ibang salita na hindi mo naman maintindiha. Ano ang ibig sabihin ng rotational presence? Umiikot sila? Paaano sila iikot?” the senator said.

In 1991, the Philippine Senate voted to expel US military bases from the country by a historic 12-11 vote. Eight years later, the Senate ratified the VFA between the US and the Philippines.

The VFA is a bilateral agreement which specifies how the Philippines and the US will determine jurisdiction of an American soldier involved in a crime committed on Philippine soil.

Congressional briefing

In a separate statement, Senate President Franklin Drilon, for his part, demanded that the DFA and the Department of National Defense brief Congress on the proposed expansion of the American military presence in the country.

“The devil is in the details. As a senator, it is my obligation to our people to ensure that any agreement the government will enter into is legal and in accordance with our Constitution. I will examine the outcome of the negotiations to see to it that it will not infringe on the lives of our people and their guaranteed rights,” Drilon said.

He also demanded that the current negotiations on the increased US presence in the Philippines be done transparently and under “strict compliance” with the Constitution and the VFA.

“There was not part in the VFA that allows permanent basing. The framework agreement should be in accordance with the restrictions set forth under the VFA,” the Senate leader said.

More study

In Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigal Valte, however, said the matter still needs to be studied.

“I understand that is the opinion of some of our more experienced legislators, however, tingnan po muna natin,” she said at a press briefing in Malacañang.

Valte noted that they don’t have details yet regarding the final agreement. “It’s a little hard to really put finality on it considering that the negotiations are still ongoing,” she said.

She also said that the negotiating panel will brief congressional leaders about the details on the agreement.

“Whatever they agree on will be discussed with Congressional leaders,” Valte said. (MNS)

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