EDCA is a process, not a promise
There were the dissenting justices, mostly arguing legalistically, and there were the assenting justices, arguing Executive authority and pragmatics, that China and storms are real threats and Executive must have the wherewithal to deal with them. If you enjoy legal debate and want to know EDCA inside out, the judicial opinions are well worth reading. They can be pulled up on the Supreme Court’s web site under “Recent Decisions”. They are also in Jurisprudence where they will rest, ammunition for law professors and students and future lawyers to use to bludgeon one another with words, both old and new. Here’s a pdf file on the case write-up proper.
I would now like to go past that and consider, “okay, what does this mean?”
The discussion on Twitter rolled out this way:
- JR Castillo: EDCA won’t do PHL any good in the long run. It’s too one sided in my opinion.
- JoeAm: I agree. The US is getting screwed. Building buildings which PH keeps. Putting lives on line. Giving away intel for free.
- JR: Will US go to war with China for PHL over the disputed islands? Will they be as decisive with PHL as they are in JPNvsCHN?
- Joe: I’ll blog you an answer. Hard to tweet on such a complex set of questions. Give me a week to write and schedule it.
- JR: I always read your blog. Very well written and engaging. Makes people think.
- Joe: Short answers for now are “No” and “Yes, when US is fully staged here”
- Adrian Cuenca: There’s something called the mutual defense treaty. To add to “No” and “yes”, there’s “they should”
- Joe: For Palawan, yes. For Reed Bank, no. For attack on PH ship, yes.
- JR: PHL is just claiming anything that is within the 200 nautical miles of its territory, EEZ.
- Joe: That is PH position. It does not bind US on position on dispute.
- JR: True. So if China occupies what PHL believes is ours, we can’t ask US to back us up on our claim.
- Joe: An excellent question
- Joe: An unknown. If arbitration says those places belong to the PH EEZ, are they territory as contemplated under the MDT? I dunno
So let’s elaborate on some of the issues this discussion surfaces.
Who got the best deal in the agreement, the US or Philippines?
Both parties got what they need, if not what they wanted. The US wanted a 20 year agreement and got 10. The US wanted ownership of buildings but ownership goes to the Philippines upon completion of construction; the US get’s rent-free occupancy. The US can rotate people through: it can’t base people here long term. The US wanted full control of facilities; the Philippines got the right for the base commander to go anywhere at any time; they are Philippine bases.
People can argue the agreement terms, and will. Such arguments really define the person doing the argument more than anything. It is a cooperative agreement by two allies with a shared mutual interest. The discussions were forthright and earnest. Both parties “won” the negotiation.
Is the US providing hard support to Japan and soft support to the Philippines?
One can understand Filipino wariness about the US commitment given the difference in dedication and investment the US provided to Japan versus the Philippines after WWII. Japan got a lot, the Philippines very little.
However, the legal basis for Japan’s claim to the Senkaku Islands is very different than the nebulous and conflicting historical claims in the West Philippine Sea. Japan has controlled the Senkakus since 1895 after Japan won the first Sino-Japanese War. These are not shoals and reefs. They are islands. Land. They came into conflict only as late as in the 1970s as China began her expansion and acquisition of resources.
Second, the US defense treaty with Japan is much more involved and evolved than the agreement with the Philippines because the partnership has been a working engagement, not confounded by the US being asked by the Japanese government to leave Japan. The US and Japan are partners, signed, sealed and delivered. Furthermore:
Although the United States does not have an official position on the merits of the competing sovereignty claims, the islands are included within the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, meaning that a defense of the islands by Japan would require the United States to come to Japan’s aid. [Wiki]
The Philippine-American defense treaty, signed in 1951, does not include specific mention of the disputed islands, shoals and reefs in the West Philippine Sea. The document is not as robustly developed and speaks in general terms. It has been updated by verbal clarification from US military authorities that the term “Pacific” as used in the agreement encompasses the South China and West Philippine Seas, but this clarification is not yet written into the Mutual Defense Treaty itself.
So, in answer to the question posed, yes, the US is providing a firmer commitment to Japan than the Philippines, by virtue of a deeper, longer lasting partnership. EDCA can be seen as a means to deepen the trust and quality of mutual partnership between the Philippines and US.
Will the US fight, and under what circumstances?
This question seeks certainty when there is none. Warmaking is a political process and it is civilian bosses who must make the decisions to shoot or not to shoot. Many Filipinos say “the US won’t shoot” or “the US won’t get China off our islands”. They are seeking certainty and argue the EDCA relationship is flawed because no one will give them that certainly. That is what fuels JR’s basic skepticism about EDCA.
Well, even the Philippine civilian leadership will not give any commitment as to if or when or under what circumstances Philippine troops will shoot. So getting that assurance from the US is not something that can or should be expected, either.
The MDT says the US will defend against attacks on Philippine land or ships. We can reasonably expect that the US will abide by the treaty . . . within reason. How quickly or forcefully this might take place would be determined by the specific tactics of any engagement, where US naval forces are situated, and civilian authorization of an act that can have grave international consequences.
EDCA is the means for getting resources in place both as a deterrent to any rash act by China, and to have good information, coordination and weaponry readily available should conflict occur.
Those who want certainty are asking the impossible. Can they tell us who will be the Philippine President later this year? And will that President place high value on EDCA? Maybe the new Administration will throw the US out. Can those who ask the questions tell us who will be the American President later this year? We know that, on the scale of hawkish military engagement, the Republicans are inclined to make war, and Hillary Clinton is considered more hawkish than President Obama. Certainty requires reading the future.
We are not so blessed.
The islands, shoals and reefs in the West Philippine Sea are disputed territory. I would guess that most are not occupied “land” as contemplated in the MDT. Even if the UN arbitration panel confirms that such islands, shoals and reefs are properly within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), that does not necessarily make them defensible “land”.
It seems to me that it would take the relationship to a level beyond that currently stated in the MDT for the US to engage to push China out of the EEZ. In other words, I doubt that will happen unless the Philippines decides to act on her own initiative and without US assistance. Pushing China off islands she has artificially built and occupied would likely not be defense as contemplated in the MDT. But I’m a layman, and can’t read the future either. Certainly, a lot of robust discussions will occur between Filipino and American military people and civilian leaders as EDCA becomes an operating agreement.
EDCA is a process, not a promise.
How will the US presence affect the Philippines?
We are not issued tea leaves or tarot cards or crystal balls, so we must speculate. Let’s bullet-point some ideas and assign probabilities that the statements are true (in parentheses). I’ll state them all as positives, and a low percentage means it is not likely to happen. You can tell me if they seem right or wrong:
- China will attack Filipino civilian-occupied Pagasa Island (10%), the rusty ship outpost lodged at Second Thomas Shoal (25%), or Palawan (3%).
- Local communities near bases rotating US troops through will see their economy rising, morals declining as bars spring up, and people looking the other way. Like merchants in Olongapo, local businesses and working women will be happy and more prosperous with Americans spending their dollars in town. (100%)
- Leftists will become more strident and demand an end to US “occupation”. Their marches will be angrier and their effigies more brightly burning. Any wayward incident or problem will ignite a protest on Roxas Boulevard in front of the American Embassy (95%). These leftists will continue to provide zero pragmatic ideas about how to improve Philippine security or well-being (75%).
- The US will agree to joint patrol with Philippine military or Coast Guard ships in disputed areas of the West Philippine Sea when and if a favorable arbitration result is received from the UN panel now considering the case (65%).
- When and if a favorable arbitration hearing is received, the Philippines will try to extricate Chinese forces from Philippine territory (3%). The US will join with and stand ready to protect any Philippine ships trying to extricate the Chinese from the Philippine EEZ (15%).
- If China brings oil drilling rigs into the UN-certified Philippine EEZ, the Philippines and US will jointly blockade access to the rigs (68%).
- The US will establish a small presence on Pagasa (50%) and a significant presence on Palawan (100%) and the west coast of Luzon (100%).
- We will hear an endless string of complaints about Philippine and/or American acts from Chinese officials and media (100%). Explicit proposals for bilateral negotiations will be forthcoming from China (2%) and Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping will visit Manila for direct talks about the dispute (12%).
- The US will engage actively to support the Philippines to keep ISIS out of the Philippines (100%). The US will engage in opposing the NPA (3%) or in dealing with Moro issues (60%).
- The US presence will improve preparation for storms (pre-positioning of relief goods) and both the speed and magnitude of immediate relief (100%).
- The US will actively engage in Philippine political processes (3%). The US will, through its embassy or authorized State Department spokespeople, offer opinions on issues which affect US interests, such as the BBL, human rights, or terrorism (85%). Defense of the Philippines will be a US election issue (100%).
- The US will do good-will outreach in Philippine communities (90%). The American presence will have a profound effect on Philippine domestic affairs or cultural development (5%). Filipino acts and deeds will have a profound effect on Philippine domestic affairs or cultural development (100%).
- The Philippines will join the growing American/Asian partnership as a major player, and will some day fly her own planes in formation at the Cope exercise in Guam (95%):
We will live in interesting times 100%.
Life is a process, not a promise.