Palace urged to consult Congress on US troops pact

By Paolo Romero, The Philippine Star

Posted at Mar 19 2014 01:58 AM | Updated as of Mar 19 2014 09:58 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Muntinlupa City Rep. Rodolfo Biazon said yesterday that Malacanang must consult Congress on the expanded security cooperation between the Philippines and the US, as the two countries draw up a new agreement that includes the use of military bases by American troops.

Biazon, chairman of the House committee on national defense and security, said while the Constitution provides that the power to negotiate treaties lies with the executive branch, it has always been a practice of the government to consult and coordinate with the legislature to ensure a fair agreement and smooth implementation of the treaty.

He said consultation is necessary to determine whether the agreement needs to be ratified by the Senate.

The lawmaker said based on the Constitution, a treaty needs to be ratified if it is political in nature, permanent or requires changing some existing national policies.

“I would recommend consultation between Congress and the executive department, particularly if any of the three conditions set by the Constitution are present. But there is another factor that is not mentioned in the Constitution, the legislative aspect of the implementation of any agreement,” Biazon said.

He said once the government allows American forces to use the military bases, modifications would have to be made like expanding runways or building larger piers that would mean expenditures.

“If there’s going to be a use of fund in the implementation of this expanded defense cooperation, Congress will have to be involved as any appropriations act originates from the House of Representatives,” he said.

Biazon said the country has to determine if there is a need to legislate additional measures to make the agreement effective.

“The legislature has no role in the negotiations except on consultative capacity, but I think Congress cannot be ignored,” he said.

Counterbalance to China’s aggression

Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian expressed support for the planned expanded defense cooperation between the Philippines and the US, noting the presence of US troops in the country will help counterbalance China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

“US presence may be seen as an indirect display of hard diplomacy. It may be a way to change the aggressive behavior of China, as we continue to pursue the issue in the international arena,” Gatchalian said.

He said the enhanced cooperation with the US would persuade China to be more civil in resolving the territorial conflict with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian claimants.

Gatchalian said China has become increasingly aggressive in pursuing its claim over the entire West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.

He urged the Aquino government to ensure that the presence of American troops here would not violate the Constitution as he reiterated his call for enhanced security cooperation with the rest of the ASEAN-member nations.

PAF transfer starts

Meanwhile, the transfer of seven units of Philippine Air Force (PAF) from Clark Airbase has started.

Elements from the 710th Special Operations Wing (SPOW) has already moved to Crow Valley in Capas, Tarlac, which was used for the US-Philippine military exercises.

A source, who asked not to be named for lack of permission to reveal developments on the transfer, said new buildings have been constructed in Crow Valley to accommodate the 710th SPOW.

This is apart from the administration building and a watchtower built years ago by the 600th Air Base Wing at the site covering some 7,000 hectares.

The source said the transfer of the rest of the PAF units would depend on the availability of funds. It is estimated that the transfer of the entire PAF would cost about P9.5 billion.

The plan, the source said, was to move the 410th Maintenance Wing, the Air Logistics Command and the 420th Supply Wing to Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga.

The source said the initial plan was to transfer the Air Defense Wing to Subic Freeport, but reports had it that the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority was considering charging lease for land use.

“I think the matter is still under discussion,” the source said.

The plan to move PAF out of Clark was considered during the early years of the Arroyo administration, due to shortage of land for investors at the Clark free port.

During the Aquino government, Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) president and chief executive officer Arnel Casanova confirmed to The STAR plans to move the PAF contingent from Clark.

The Clark Development Corp., BCDA’s implementing arm at Clark, said only about 149 hectares remain for lease to investors at the free port.

CDC earnings are derived mainly from land lease payments of investors.

Address environmental crimes

Environmental groups are urging the government to first address environmental crimes before considering the proposed increased rotational presence of US troops in the Philippines.

The Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment said the government should first enforce strict regulations and mechanisms for accountability on the US military presence.

The group criticized the Aquino administration for allegedly railroading the framework agreement on increased presence of US troops in the country.

Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan said the Aquino and Obama administrations are fast-tracking the negotiation for a new US basing agreement. – Jess Diaz, Rhodina Villanueva, Ding Cervantes