Read also “10 things you should know about the EDCA that government is not telling you” below after the Primer
1. What is the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA)?
The EDCA is an agreement between the Philippines and the United States which is envisioned to advance the implementation of the PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
2. What purpose does EDCA serve?
The EDCA is designed to promote between the Philippines and its defense treaty ally the United States the following:
- Capacity building towards AFP modernization
- Strengthening AFP for external defense
- Maritime Security
- Maritime Domain Awareness
- Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR)
3. How will these objectives be achieved?
We are currently holding joint training exercises such as Balikatan and undertaking humanitarian assistance and disaster relief cooperation such as in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda.
To improve on the above, we intend to undertake additional cooperation by way of (1) Construction of facilities and infrastructure upgrades; and (2) Storage and prepositioning of defense and HADR equipment, supplies and material.
4. Where will the construction and prepositioning take place?
These will take place in designated areas within a few AFP bases to be agreed upon by both Parties.
5. What principles were adhered to in ensuring that the national interests are protected and advanced?
Upon the instructions of the President, we observed the following principles:
- Strict compliance with the Philippine Constitution, laws and jurisprudence;
- Utmost respect for Philippine sovereignty;
- Requirement for Philippine consent for all activities;
- No permanent presence or base by US troops in the Philippines;
- Full Philippine control over facilities to be used;
- Mutuality of benefits;
- Non-exclusivity of use of the designated areas for US armed forces;
- Enhancement of AFP capabilities through joint training exercises;
- Prohibition of nuclear weapons; and,
- US commitment for long-term AFP capability build-up.
6. What are the main features of EDCA?
Consistent with the President’s guidelines, the agreement has the following main features:
- Clear provision that the US would “not establish a permanent military presence or base in the Philippines”;
- US access to and use of designated areas in AFP owned and controlled facilities (“Agreed Locations”) will be at the invitation of the Philippine Government;
- Prior consent of the Philippines, through the Mutual Defense Board (MDB) and Security Engagement Board (SEB), with regard to US access and use of Agreed Locations which may be listed in an annex and further described in implementing arrangements;
- Philippines retention of primary responsibility for security of the Agreed Locations;
- Access of the AFP base commander to the entire area of the Agreed Locations;
- Philippine ownership of buildings and infrastructure once constructed by US military;
- Sharing and joint use of facilities in the Agreed Locations, including those built by the US military;
- Value of prepositioned materiel in the enhancement of AFP defense capabilities and possible transfer or purchase of materiel determined to be excess;
- Prohibition of entry to the Philippines of nuclear weapons, and reference to respective obligations of both Parties under the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention;
- Strong commitment by both Parties in protecting the environment, human health and safety;
- Preference for Philippine suppliers of goods, products and service in US military procurement; and,
- Regular consultation on the implementation of the agreement.
7. How does the Philippine Government envision defense cooperation with the US?
The Philippines will strengthen its capabilities for external and territorial defense by continuing to work with its treaty ally in a mutually beneficial way in line with what is allowed by the Philippine Constitution.
8. What other benefits will the Philippines derive from EDCA?
In addition to interoperability, maritime security, maritime domain awareness, capacity building and more expeditious HADR, the Agreement will further benefit the Philippines economically through the provision of jobs and other economic opportunities in the construction activities in the Agreed Locations and procurement of local goods and supplies by the US military and personnel.
9. What is the reason behind the change in the title of the agreement from “Increased Rotational Presence Framework Agreement” to “Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement”?
The change in the title reflects the desire of the Philippines and the US for a more comprehensive agreement that covers the full range of enhanced defense cooperation, including developing maritime security, maritime domain awareness and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities. Increased rotational presence is just one modality of enhanced defense cooperation.
10. Is EDCA constitutional?
Yes. EDCA provides that the access and use of AFP facilities by the US military will be “at the invitation of the Philippines and with full respect for the Philippine Constitution and Philippine laws.”
The constitutional provision which prohibits the establishment of “foreign military bases… or facilities” in the country except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate does not apply to EDCA.
The defining features of “foreign military bases” – extraterritoriality, exclusivity in use and foreign ownership – will not be applicable in the Agreed Locations.
On the other hand, the entry of US military troops for military exercises and other approved activities is already allowed under the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which is a treaty concurred in by the Senate and upheld by the Supreme Court.
The provisions of EDCA, an executive agreement, are consistent with the Philippine Constitution, laws, and jurisprudence.
11. Does EDCA mean the return of US bases in the Philippines?
The Agreement is very clear on this matter and specifies in the Preamble the Parties’ “understanding for the US not to establish a permanent military presence or base in the territory of the Philippines.”
EDCA does not authorize the establishment of US bases. It allows the US military access to Agreed Locations.
12. Does EDCA give the US military blanket authority to build facilities in AFP military bases? Will the Philippines have access to these facilities? Who will own them?
Under EDCA, before constructions and other activities can be undertaken, prior consent of the Philippines will have to be secured through the Mutual Defense Board (MDB) and Security Engagement Board (SEB) which were established under the MDT and the VFA. The AFP base commander will have access to the entire area of the facilities shared with the US military. The Philippines will also own any building and similar infrastructure that will be built by the US military.
13. Will EDCA also provide a blanket authority for all activities of the US troops in the future?
No. Activities to be undertaken under EDCA will have to be approved by the Philippines through the MDB and SEB.
14. How long will EDCA be in effect?
EDCA will have an initial term of 10 years. There will be regular bilateral consultations on the implementation of the Agreement.
15. How many US personnel will be allowed into the Philippines under this Agreement?
The number of visiting US personnel will depend on the scale and the frequency of the activities to be approved by both Parties.
There will be no stationing of US personnel under EDCA. US personnel will come on temporary and rotational basis in relation to activities that will be held in AFP facilities.
16. Will the entry of nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and biological weapons be allowed under the EDCA?
EDCA clearly provides that the materials the US military may bring into the country “shall not include nuclear weapons,” in compliance with the Philippine Constitution. EDCA also reaffirms the two countries’ respective obligations under the Convention on Chemical Weapons and Convention on Biological Weapons.
17. Which AFP bases will be shared with and used by the US under EDCA?
The designated areas in a limited number of AFP bases that will be shared and jointly used with the US will be specified in an annex and agreed implementing arrangements. Given the mutuality of benefits to be derived from the Agreement (such as making available defense and HADR equipment, supplies and materiel for the benefit of the Philippines), the areas will be made available to US forces without rental. In addition, the buildings and other infrastructure to be constructed by the US military will be owned by the Philippines.
18. How will the Philippines benefit from the prepositioning of US military equipment?
EDCA recognizes the value of prepositioning and storing equipment, supplies and materiel to the enhancement of the AFP’s defense capabilities.
Moreover, prepositioned materiel will allow for timely responses in the event of disasters – natural or otherwise. This is well recognized by the Philippines and the United States. As stated in Article IV para 2, “The Parties share a recognition of the benefits that such prepositioning could have for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”
19. How will EDCA improve humanitarian assistance and disaster relief?
As shown in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda, the need for timely delivery of relief assistance is critical.
Under EDCA, activities aimed at increasing and strengthening the Parties’ individual and collective HADR capabilities will be facilitated and strengthened through prepositioned materiel and closer cooperation with the US.
20. Does EDCA address concerns on environmental protection and human health and safety?
Yes. This is a landmark and defining feature of EDCA.
This agreement has robust provisions on environmental protection, human health and safety, including the adoption of a “preventative approach” to environmental protection, the application of “environmental compliance standards that reflect the more protective of Philippines, US or applicable international agreement standards,” immediate action to contain and address environmental contamination resulting from spills, and other measures.
21. How does EDCA relate to the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT)?
The MDT obligated the Philippines and the United States to maintain and develop their individual and collective defense capabilities.
EDCA is therefore within the ambit and in furtherance of the MDT.
22. How does EDCA relate to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA)?
The VFA lays out the terms and conditions on the entry and visit of US military personnel for military exercises. These provisions shall likewise apply to the entry and temporary stay of US personnel under EDCA.
23. If the above activities are within the ambit of the MDT and VFA, why is there a need for a new agreement on enhanced defense cooperation?
In advancing the benefits that could be derived from our defense alliance with the United States, we needed to articulate the parameters, modalities and mechanisms to a greater degree.
24. Does EDCA address the matter on criminal jurisdiction and custody of indicted servicemen?
With the finalization of EDCA, we can now fast track the bilateral consultations on the implementing arrangements of the VFA.
25. Will EDCA affect bilateral relations with neighboring countries?
EDCA reaffirms the desire of both the Philippines and the United States to strengthen international and regional security and stability, a common and shared interest of countries in the region.
26. What will be our neighbors’ reaction to this Agreement?
We would hope that this Agreement will also be viewed by our neighbors as a positive contribution towards peace and stability in the region.
27. Is it true that the negotiation was rushed in order to coincide with US President Barack Obama’s visit to the Philippines?
The pace of negotiations for EDCA was dictated by the need for full understanding and consensus by both negotiating panels on all provisions of the Agreement. It was more important for both parties to come up with an Agreement that would be fully and mutually acceptable to both sides – consistent with their respective laws.
28. How long did the negotiations take?
The eight rounds of negotiations and preceded by preparatory discussions took almost two years to complete.
29. Was the Philippine Congress briefed on this Agreement?
During the course of the negotiations, the leadership of both Houses of Congress was informed of the progress of the negotiations. We will be scheduling a full briefing for interested members of Congress.
30. Do we have the support of the Filipino people for EDCA?
A recent Social Weather Station survey showed at least 7 out of 10 Filipinos support measures to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities and that the Philippines may ask its partners in achieving this objective.
Through EDCA, the Philippines will cooperate with its defense treaty ally in further strengthening their respective individual and collective defense capabilities.
All Filipinos should unite in support for a stronger Philippines.
- 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.