Subic being turned into US base again? Lawmaker slams military, DND silence
Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite, an opposition lawmaker, slammed on Wednesday the military and the Department of National Defense (DND) for their silence after President Rodrigo Duterte claimed that the United States was again converting Subic, in Zambales province, into a military base.
“What is happening in Subic? [Is the United States] already building a full-blown military [base] on our shores? Have they moved nuclear weapons into our territory?” Gaite said in a statement.
“What is the DND and the [military] hiding from the public? Are they mum because they are already going beyond what is allowed by the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) and [the] Edca (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement)?” Gaite asked.
War games, rotation of troops
The VFA allows US troops to come to the Philippines to hold war exercises with Filipino soldiers. The Philippines and the United States signed the accord in 1998.
Signed in 2014, the Edca allows the rotation of US troops training Philippine forces and prepositioning of weapons and equipment on sites selected by the Philippine military.
In a televised speech on Monday night, Duterte, responding to criticisms of his demand that the United States increase military aid to the Philippines to $16 billion if it wanted to retain the VFA, said the United States had “a lot of arms stored in the Philippines” and it was “slowly converting Subic” into a military base.
Piqued after the US visa of an ally, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, was canceled, Duterte ordered the abrogation of the VFA last year. He later suspended the abrogation, citing the coronavirus pandemic and “heightened superpower tensions.”
The United States maintained a naval base in Subic until 1991, when the Philippine Senate refused to renew a military bases agreement between the two countries. The Philippine decision also led to the dismantling of a US air base at Clark, Pampanga province.
Subic and Clark have since been redeveloped into free ports, bustling economic hubs that have withstood the pandemic.
“Our officials know that the use of Subic as a military base is in violation of our military deals, against VFA and Edca, especially if this is a permanent base, and if that is happening then that would be a grave violation of existing agreements, which gives further justification for [the VFA’s] immediate abrogation,” Gaite said.
Ship visits only
Not waiting for the defense establishment to comment on Mr. Duterte’s remarks, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) on Tuesday denied that the free port was being converted into a US military base and that the Americans were stockpiling arms there.
Wilma Eisma, the SBMA administrator, said US military vessels were allowed to dock at Subic under the VFA, but port visits by these vessels usually lasted only a few days.
“[The port calls are] enough for disembarkation and reembarkation of troops and [equipment] in case of military exercises under the VFA,” Eisma said in a statement.
She said US vessels also docked at Subic to restock or for onshore visits by crew.
“These visits have not in any way converted the Subic Bay Freeport into a military base,” Eisma said.
Duterte’s demand that the United States increase military aid to the Philippines in exchange for retention of the VFA struck Sen. Panfilo Lacson as “extortion” and the chair of the Senate defense committee said so in a tweet on Saturday.
Lacson later deleted his tweet, but Duterte, in a televised speech late Monday, told him that he had “nothing to do” with the VFA because it was an executive, not legislative, matter.
Lacson responded on Tuesday, telling Duterte that the Senate had a say in the VFA because the Constitution, in Section 12 of Article VII, requires treaties or international agreements to have the concurrence of at least two-thirds of the Senate.
Lacson also referred to a petition in the Supreme Court challenging Mr. Duterte’s authority to scrap the VFA and pointing out that a two-thirds vote by the Senate is required to terminate the agreement.
‘Not schooled in law’
Malacañang came back on Wednesday, chiding Lacson for talking law when he was not a lawyer.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a television interview that Duterte, being the President, was the chief architect of the country’s foreign policy and that Duterte knew what he was talking about because he studied constitutional law.
In a statement, Salvador Panelo, the chief presidential legal counsel, said Duterte had exclusive power to conduct and manage the country’s foreign relations and that Lacson, “not being schooled in law, erroneously cited” the constitutional provision that refers to “when an international agreement may become valid and effective.”
The Senate has participation in international agreements only when the President “desires to enter into one and decides to submit it” to the Senate for concurrence Panelo said.
Responding, Lacson said he did not begrudge Panelo’s defense of the President, “however illogical” Panelo’s argument may be.
“I understand where my good friend Sal Panelo is coming from. Being a member of the President’s Cabinet, it is no-brainer that he will defend [Mr. Duterte] right or wrong, even with the most warped line of reasoning,” Lacson said in a Viber message. “We should give him that much leeway.”
But Lacson maintained his position that international agreements, including the VFA, are within the purview of the Senate.
“That said, even an ordinary citizen of this republic has a stake on matters that affect his daily life. What more of a sitting senator who votes and [becomes part of] the two-thirds vote required to make an international agreement such as the VFA valid and effective,” Lacson said.
—With reports from Jerome Aning and DJ Yap
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