Senators open to use of bases by US, allies

MANILA – Some senators on Friday said they are open to the government’s plan to allow the United States and other military allies such as Japan and Australia access to its military bases under a special arrangement as a means to counter China’s perceived aggressive behavior.

But two senators raised alarm over the proposal saying the government should ensure it will not make any move violating the Constitution.

Sen. Gregorio Honasan II said it would be best if the government consults both houses of Congress-the Senate and House of Representatives-on the matter of opening the former US naval bases in Subic Bay in Zambales for use of foreign military personnel.

“Technically, I think it may be a violation of the Constitution but if our national interest and society are at stake we have a limited choice because we are still a developing country,” Honasan said in a text message.

“We are at the mercy of and dependent on powers like the US and China,” Honasan added.

He explained that under the 1987 Constitution, foreign military bases in the Philippines are explicitly prohibited.

But for “practical purposes” he would rather support such moves if only to keep the enemy at bay.

“For practical purposes, urgent ang national security natin kasi hindi na umaalis ang China. Sa US lang puwede matakot ang China [because China's presence is continuing. They are only afraid of the US],” Honasan said.

Outgoing Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson also warned there should be consultations first before anything else.

“If only for the sake of interdepartmental courtesy, dapat lang consultahin ang Senado, not necessarily kunin ang approval nito [the Senate should be consulted not necessarily get its approval],” Lacson said.

Sen. Francis Escudero, who chairs the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, seconded Lacson’s proposal.

“It’s always better to get the consensus or at least get the opinion not only of the Senat but key stakeholders in order for things to flow more smoothly,” Escudero said.

Escudero also agreed the Executive department does not necessarily need to get the Senate’s nod.

“No, I don’t think so, only treaties need to be ratified by the Senate. Foreign policy and relations are still primarily within the domain of the executive branch,” he said.

But Sen. Vicente Sotto III said Congress should be informed of any military initiative that is done outside of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

“Pag may kilos na wala sa VFA, dapat alamin ng senado. Senado ang treaty-ratifying body alinsunod sa konstitution [If there is movement outside of the VFA (agreement), the Senate should be informed. The Senate is the ones that ratifies treaties according to the constitution,” Sotto said.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV also said he believes that if the proposal would be a separate agreement similar to the VFA , it would need Senate approval.

“But if it would only be an implementing guideline of prior agreements, it won’t need one. So well have to wait for the final proposal,” Trillanes said.

Resigned Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said there is no provision in the 1987 Constitution that allows the United States and other countries to set up military facilities in the Philippines.

Interviewed at the sidelines of the oath-taking ceremonies of Senators Nancy Binay and Gregorio Honasan II at the Coconut Palace, Enrile issued the subtle warning over Malacanang revealed plans to allow US naval forces to temporarily use the country’s naval base in Subic Bay in Zambales.

“Whether temporary or whatever term they use. No military bases (is allowed especially) if it assumes a certain degree of permanence or stability,” Enrile told reporters in an interview.

Allowing the US and other of the country’s military allies to use the military bases, he said, necessitates amendments to the Constitution or the government may consider another treaty so they can use the facilities.

“Otherwise it can be an issue raised before the Supreme Court,” Enrile said.

Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, for her part said the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines is already pursuing a modernization program as part of efforts to strengthen the country’s defense and security capabilities.

But Legarda said allowing access to US military forces to our bases may be done but strictly under the purview of the Visiting Forces Agreement.

“The VFA will continue to be enforced to ensure that US military presence remains within the bounds of the VFA framework,” Legarda said.

“The same is true with other countries where ee have existing status of Visiting Forces Agreement already ratified by the Senate.

“As it is there are joint exercises and initiatives, and to a certain extent, access to our facilities is allowed according to well-defined terms.

“Under this scenario, there is no need for. Renewed Senate approval,” Legarda explained.