SC unlikely to rule on EDCA before Obama’s APEC visit

Posted on November 04, 2015

THE SUPREME COURT (SC) is unlikely to rule on a constitutional challenge to a US-Philippine security agreement before US President Barack H. Obama visits Manila later this month, with a decision expected next year, a court source said.

Kunal Rajkumar, an Indian navy commanding officer, explains the meaning of the seal on a turret during a briefing with the media on-board the Indian naval ship INS Sahyadri docked at North Harbor in Manila, Nov. 3. The INS Sahyadri is a Shivalik Class warship that was inducted into the Indian Navy in July 2012, with a multi-role stealth frigate and boasting an array of weaponry in its arsenal, according to the Indian navy. -- AFP
The deal gives US troops wide access to Philippine military bases and approval to build facilities to store fuel and equipment for maritime security, but it was effectively frozen after opponents of the agreement challenged its constitutionality last year.

With tension growing over China’s island-building in the disputed South China Sea, Philippine political experts had expected the Supreme Court to issue a ruling before Mr. Obama attends the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila on Nov. 18-19.

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) was signed just days before Mr. Obama last visited Manila in April 2014.

A source at the Supreme Court said domestic political issues were likely to take priority. “I expect the court to decide on the military deal next year, before the elections in May,” the source added.

Supreme Court Spokesman Theodore O. Te said it was unclear when the court would issue a ruling.

Experts had said any further delays to the agreement might raise eyebrows in Washington, given Manila has been the most vocal critic of Beijing among the claimants to the South China Sea and has urged the United States to push back against China’s territorial ambitions.

Last week a US warship challenged the territorial limits around one of Beijing’s artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago, prompting China’s naval chief to warn that a minor incident could spark war in the South China Sea.

“It is painful to watch a case so vital to Philippine national security mired in judicial indecision,” said Patrick Cronin of the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

To be sure, US-Philippine military ties are already robust. Philippine military officials say there has been an increase in US exercises, training and ship and aircraft visits in the past year under Mr. Obama’s “rebalance” to Asia.

But the EDCA would take the relationship a step further, partly by giving US forces broad access to the Philippines.

“There is no doubt the US will be disappointed. But the process demonstrates judicial independence where due diligence is expected,” said Philippine security expert Rommel Banlaoi. -- Reuters