What you need to know about EDCA

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(File photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — A military agreement between the U.S. and the Philippines has overcome its biggest legal hurdle.

On Tuesday (January 12), the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the U.S. and the Philippines, by a vote of 10-4, and one inhibition.

The court agreed with the government’s contention that this is an executive agreement, not a treaty. The Supreme Court said that EDCA carries out provisions of previous agreements such as the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement.

This essentially means that EDCA does not need the concurrence of the Senate. That's a huge weight lifted off the back of the Aquino administration, which has seen priority bills — such as the Bangsamoro Basic Law — get stuck in the legislature.

According to the Philippine government, it took over two years before the agreement was reached.

EDCA.png Filipino and American soldiers in a joint military training activity. Military ties between both countries date back decades, and the U.S. operated bases in the Philippines until 1991. Granted that EDCA carries out provisions of previous agreements, it is not necessarily a return to the past, according to the government. EDCA explicitly prohibits the U.S. from establishing a permanent military presence or bases in the Philippines.

U.S. State Secretary John Kerry on Wednesday (January 13 PHT) said Washington welcomed the Supreme Court decision. “We look forward to implementing this accord, which will increase the interoperability of our armed forces and contribute to modernization and improve our joint capacity to respond to humanitarian emergencies,” he said.

He said the two countries’ military cooperation in maritime security and domain awareness “benefits not just our mutual defense but also actively contributes to maintaining regional stability.”

The conditions governing the presence of U.S. forces in the Philippines will be different from those in Japan and South Korea, which host U.S. military bases.

Detractors of the agreement think otherwise. Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Secretary General Renato Reyes has argued that the agreement makes the country a launching pad for U.S. military intervention, and transforms it into a U.S. military outpost.

Watch: EDCA a one-sided deal for U.S., analyst says

EDCA and U.S. military presence as a whole have generated concerns over the conduct of American service members in the country, with the conviction last year of U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton for the killing of Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude on October 11, 2014 while on liberty following a joint U.S.-Philippine military exercise. The court sentenced Pemberton to imprisonment of 6 to 12 years.

Also read: Joseph Scott Pemberton found guilty of homicide, sentenced to 6-12 years in prison

What does EDCA plan to accomplish?

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter suggested Wednesday that EDCA could support freedom of navigation and freedom of the commons in regional waters, in light of his country's "rebalance to the Asia Pacific region" that entails prepositioning men and materiel in friendly countries.

Related: Philippines, United States ‘reinforce alliance’ through EDCA

"The United States has indicated our intention to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, whether it be the South China Sea or anywhere else around the world."

"And the Philippines – and the EDCA decision by the Supreme Court gives us new opportunities here – also is strengthening its role in maritime security, and in that connection we’re working and now have new opportunities to work with the Philippines," he said.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said EDCA's approval "opens new opportunities to further deepen" the U.S.-Philippines alliance. He emphasized the close ties the two countries have had over the last 70 years. For Del Rosario, relations between both countries are at their "best point."

"One factor behind this is the conscious effort of our leaders to invest in our enduring engagement, and another factor is the emergence of regional challenges that have underscored the need for concerted effort to protect our common values," he added.

What are the authorized activities of the U.S. military personnel?

The agreement is explicit with regard to the type of activities the U.S. may undertake within Philippine territory, in relation to its access and use of "agreed locations":

  • Security cooperation exercises
  • Joint and combined training
  • Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief
  • Other activities as agreed upon between the U.S. and the Philippines

Where will U.S. forces be stationed?

EDCA grants the U.S. access to agreed locations without rental or similar fees. However, the U.S. will have to cover its own operational expenses.

Edca_Bases_Philippines_CNNPH.png  

Likewise, the agreement stipulates that the U.S., through bilateral security mechanisms, will have operational control of agreed locations for construction activities. It also grants the U.S. the authority to undertake alterations and improvements to those areas.

A "Philippine Designated Authority" and its authorized representative shall have access to these locations.

Read: EDCA helpful to PH in S. China Sea row - retired U.S. admiral

Who will own the land and the structures?

EDCA says that the Philippines will retain ownership of the agreed locations. The U.S. will have to return any agreed locations — including permanent structures if such are no longer required for its activities under the EDCA.

Permanent buildings constructed by the U.S. become property of the Philippines, but shall be used by U.S. forces for the duration of their stay.

How long will EDCA last?

EDCA will have an initial 10-year term. Thereafter, it shall continue to be in force unless terminated by the U.S. or the Philippines, with a one year's written notice.

Read EDCA in full here.