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Calls to review US-Philippine defence pact mount

Calls to review the new US-Philippine defence deal signed during US President Barack Obama's visit to Manila are mounting in the Philippines.

MANILA: Calls to review the new US-Philippine defence deal signed during US President Barack Obama's visit to Manila are mounting in the Philippines.

The Senate is set to conduct an inquiry on the accord, amid increasing criticism that it was rushed in time for President Obama's visit and that it is a mockery of the country's constitution.

Opponents criticised the agreement as being lopsided in favour of the US government.

They argued that the Philippines was left empty-handed and that the pact violated the country's sovereignty.

Neri Colmenares, a congressman from the Bayan Muna Party, said: “We are at the losing end. They are here for free. It's not true that it is just for 10 years, it is unlimited, if you look at the agreement -- it will be renewed automatically unless terminated.”

Critics also doubt that the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) would be able to deter China's increasing aggressiveness in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

“It was clear from President Obama's statement that the US does not intend to intervene for the defence of the Philippines, and President Obama was candid enough to admit that because of the enormous economic relations of the US with China, he will not contain China,” said Mr Colmenares.

Government officials though, continue to defend the deal, saying it will contribute greatly to the Philippine military's modernisation program.

“There's still a need to further beef up our air and naval assets because of the archipelagic character of our country.

“We have the longest coastline of any country in the world and there's a need for more comprehensive patrolling of our waters. There's also the aspect of improving our response capability in case there will be physical attacks to our country,” said Herminio
Coloma Jr, head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office.

But some analysts remain unconvinced.

Roland Simbulan, vice chair of the Center for People’s Empowerment and Governance, said: “Almost 50 years of special Philippine-US relations, especially when the bases were here in the name of interoperability and modernisation, has resulted in the Philippines having the weakest external capability.

“Given the budgetary constraints of the US today, they are relying more on access by host countries.”

Various lawyer groups have now vowed to challenge the new defence pact before the high court, believing that the pact is unconstitutional.

Members of the government negotiating panel however, believe that the agreement will stand legal scrutiny, and will further improve the country's maritime and defence capabilities.  

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