On 28 April 2014, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The EDCA is not a new agreement since it merely updates and enhances the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty. It provides the framework by which the Philippines and the U.S. can develop their individual and collective defense capabilities through the deployment of American troops and equipment on a rotational basis, thus skirting the controversial issue of re-establishing U.S. bases in the country.
With its small and obsolete naval force and an almost non-existent air force, the Philippines relies on the U.S. for technical military assistance through the periodic visits of American forces that joint training, humanitarian missions, and disaster response operations. More significantly, the Philippines banks on the deterrent effect that is generated by the temporary deployment of U.S. forces and their equipment in its territory against threats to its maritime security interests. The EDCA allows American forces to utilize Philippines-owned and controlled facilities but the Philippine base commander has unhampered access to those locations. Likewise, the U.S. military can build or improve the infrastructure inside these installations: nevertheless, the Armed Forces of the Philippines can jointly use them. The system involves bringing American tactical units—personnel and their equipment– to allied bases in East Asia to plan and exercise contingency missions for crisis or conflict situations.
By signing the EDCA with the United States, the Aquino Administration has demonstrated the political will to facilitate greater American strategic access to Philippine territory, despite the opposition of nationalist elements and militant left-wing organizations. As expected, in late May 2014, two former senators and 10 other petitioners asked the Philippine Supreme Court to stop the implementation of the EDCA pending the resolution of its constitutionality, and its adverse implications on Philippine sovereignty and national interests. The petitioners argued that the agreement violates the Philippine Constitution because it sets up de facto U.S. bases on Philippine territory. The petitioners also argued that contrary to the government’s claim that it is an executive agreement, it is actually a treaty that must be ratified by the Philippine Senate. The Aquino Administration, in turn, reaffirmed the constitutionality of the agreement and announced that is prepared to defend its legality in the Philippine Supreme Court. In November 2014, the Supreme Court began to hear the arguments from both sides. The court will probably come out with a decision by the middle of 2015.