By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Malacañang finally released a copy of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement it signed with the US government. It is a 10-page agreement that gives the US Armed Forces free, blanket access to all “Agreed locations” to undertake: “training, transit, support and related activities; refueling of aircraft; bunkering of vessels; temporary maintenance of vehicles, vessels and aircraft; temporary accommodation of personnel; communications; prepositioning of equipment, supplies and materiel; deploying forces and materiel; and such other activities as the Parties may agree.”
The Philippine government would also facilitate “temporary transit and access” of US Armed Forces to public land and facilities.
The Aquino government agreed to give the US Armed Forces “operational control” over these “Agreed locations.” The US Armed Forces also have full control over access, use, and disposition of “defense equipment, supplies, and materiel” that they preposition in the “Agreed locations.”
While there is a provision in the agreement that states that the prepositioned materiel “shall not include nuclear weapons,” US forces will have “unimpeded access” to these “Agreed locations for all matters relating to the prepositioning and storage of defense equipment, supplies and materiel including delivery, management, inspection, use, maintenance and removal of such equipment, supplies, and materiel.“ (The highlighting was made by the author)
While there is a provision that the Philippine Designated Authority “shall have access to the entire area of the Agreed locations, this access is subject to “operational safety and security requirements.” And United States forces are “authorized to exercise all rights and authorities within Agreed locations that are necessary for their operational control or defense, including taking appropriate measures to protect United States forces and United States contractors.” They are merely obliged to “coordinate” such measures with the Philippine government.
The US is also authorized to set up and operate its own telecommunication systems with free use of a radio spectrum.
In sum, what did the US and the Philippines get out of this agreement?
For the US:
1. The US Armed Forces got unimpeded access, operational and security control over several, without limits, “Agreed locations” all over the country. In these locations, they could do everything that they do in a military base including training and accommodation of personnel; bunkering, refueling, repair and maintenance of vessels and aircraft; setting up and operating communications and radar systems; and storing arms, ammunition, military equipment, supplies and other materiel.
2. The US Armed Forces will use these “Agreed locations” without paying any rent. They would pay for water, electricity, and other public utilities at the same rate that the Philippine government pays for. And the US Armed Forces would pay only for its “pro-rata share.”
3. The US could now set up and maintain communication systems all over the country with free use of its radio spectrum.
4. The US was able to get free depots to store arms, ammunition, military equipment, supplies and materiel that it would use in its wars and military operations in the region.
5. The US got the Philippine government to agree that any dispute arising from the agreement would not be brought up before any national or international court or tribunal, or any third party for settlement.
It is also worth noting that when the negotiations for the said agreement was announced, it was mentioned that the purpose was to pave the way for the “increased rotational presence” of US troops, war vessels and aircraft. In the said agreement, there is no mention of any limitation on the number, frequency, length of stay of troops, war vessels, and aircraft. This means that the operating agreement to cover these would be the Visiting Forces Agreement; the only limitation set by the VFA is that it should be “temporary.”
On the other hand, the Philippines got:
1. Access to Agreed locations subject to the operational and security requirements and measures of US forces;
2. An “assurance” that no nuclear weapons will be stored in the country, which the US repeatedly gives to the Philippine government even as nuclear-powered, and most probably armed, submarines, aircraft carriers, and warships regularly dock in the country’s ports;
3. A provision that the US shall “strive” to use Philippine supplier of goods, products and services “to the greatest extent practicable in accordance with the laws and regulations of the United States;”
4. A confirmation of “intent” to “respect relevant Philippine environmental, health, and safety laws, regulations and standards in the execution of its policies;”
5. An “assurance” that US forces will not “intentionally release any hazardous materials or hazardous waste owned by it and, if a spill occurs, shall expeditiously take action in order to contain and address environmental contamination resulting from the spill.”
6. A vague reference on probable US support to the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Quoting from Article II of the Mutual Defense Treaty, the agreement read: “the Parties separately and jointly by self-help and mutual aid will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack,” and within the context of the VFA. This includes:
a. Supporting the Parties’ shared goal of improving interoperability of the Parties’ forces, and for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (“AFP”) addressing capabilities gaps, promoting long-term modernization, and helping maintain and develop additional maritime security maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities.
So will the AFP modernization be part of separate or joint efforts, self-help or mutual aid?
Appearing like an afterthought, the agreement also provides for prepositioning of humanitarian assistance, disaster relief equipment, supplies, and materiel. (It is revealing that the agreement uses the term materiel to pertain to materials to be used for disaster relief since materiel refers to military materials and equipment.)
The Aquino government has also been pointing to the intensifying territorial dispute with China over conflicting claims to Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Islands to justify the need for an enhanced defense cooperation agreement with the US. While US President Barack Obama “reaffirmed” the commitment of the US to the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951, he did not state categorically that the US will come to the aid of the Philippines if the latter’s territorial dispute with China escalates into armed clashes. Compare the statements of US President Obama in the Philippines and Japan.
“…our commitment to defend the Philippines is ironclad. And the United States will keep that commitment ’cause allies do not stand alone.”
When US President Obama was asked directly if the Mutual Defense Treaty would apply in the event that the country’s territorial conflict with China escalates into an armed conflict, he repeated his earlier statement that:
“ There is enormous trade; enormous business that is done between the United States and China; a whole range of issues on the international stage in which cooperation between the US and China are balanced.”
“ So our goal is not to counter China. Our goal is not to contain China” but “ to make sure that international rules and norms are respected, and that includes in the area of maritime disputes.”
Compare the above with what US President Obama said in Japan:
“Our commitment to Japan’s security is absolute and article five [of the security treaty] covers all territories under Japan’s administration, including the Senkaku islands.”
“We don’t take a position on final sovereignty on the Senkakus but historically they’ve been administered by Japan and should not be subject to change unilaterally.”
US President Obama even used the Japanese term for the potentially oil-rich islands, which are located at the East China Sea, instead of the Chinese name for it, Diaoyu Islands.
Thus, considering what the US would be doing in the “Agreed locations,” what they got looks like military bases, sounds like military bases, smells like military bases, the only difference now, compared with the former US-RP Military Bases Agreement, is that it is for FREE.