By Azer N. Parrocha
MANILA (PNA) – Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III on Wednesday dispelled fears that President Rodrigo Duterte would stop honoring the Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
Pimentel, ally and party-mate of the President, came to his (Duterte) defense after the latter vowed to review the two-year-old defense deal that allows the US to put up military bases in the Philippines.
The President said that while the agreement is an official document, it did not contain the signature of his predecessor former President Benigno S. Aquino III but only by then Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.
Pimentel noted the EDCA is a formal agreement that could only be terminated through a procedure that has not even started yet.
“EDCA is a formal agreement and the way to terminate the formal agreement is (already) found in the agreement. Let’s follow the procedures,” he said.
Pimentel explained there will first have to be a notice that will come from the Executive Branch, the Departments of Foreign Affairs and National Defense (DFA, DND) and effectivity of the notice of termination will come years or months after the notice.
He said because there were such procedures, it would take some time before any halt in the agreement would take place.
“The first step has not yet kicked in so there’s nothing to talk about,” Pimentel said.
He also explained that there was no need to consult the Senate on the matter because it has already ratified and approved the EDCA.
The Senate President also expressed hope that President Duterte will put the matter in the agenda so he could get their opinions but noted that it is still him who forms the decision as head of the Executive branch.
Despite concerns that the President’s latest remark could dampen Philippine and US ties, Pimentel assured that ties would remain strong.
“Countries are not that shallow,” he said.
In a separate interview, Senate Majority Leader Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, like Pimentel, said that the President’s statement has not yet been “written in stone.”
“He’s contemplating at that but nothing is written in stone yet. At that point he said that, he probably believes that as a good thought but later on, he could probably think it over,” Sotto said.
“Nothing is written in stone unless it is executed or implemented by the executive department or a law is passed to that effect. We should give the speaker some leeway. It’s not easy to express what’s on his mind. He (Duterte) might have said that but there is no action right now to do that,” he added.
Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, for his part, said the provisions on the EDCA should be reviewed.
“It’s worth looking into the provisions of EDCA and even our MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty) with the US because that’s where it’s rooted,” Lacson said.
“The Senate has ratified the treaty. This was not done through an executive fiat. It’s worth looking into the provisions. EDCA, as we heard from (the President), he said is only an EO (executive order). So let’s see,” he added.
The EDCA is an agreement between the Philippines and the United States signed last April 28, 2014 which aims to advance the implementation of the Philippine-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
It also allows the US access to and use of designated areas in Armed Forces of the Philippines-owned and controlled facilities however at the invitation of the Philippine government.