The incoming Duterte administration must honor its commitment to implement the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed by the Philippines and the US, former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario said yesterday.
Speaking at a forum at the National Defense College of the Philippines, Del Rosario, chairman of the Albert del Rosario Institute (ADRi), said EDCA is a significant component for the Phl-US alliance to move forward.
Asked if the Philippines stands to lose face should it not implement EDCA, Del Rosario said the new administration has accepted the treaty.
“We’re trying to move forward with it. It’s a very important mechanism in terms of moving forward with our treaty alliance,” he said.
President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, while saying that EDCA will be honored, wants to deepen ties with China. He has also expressed openness to dealing with China bilaterally to settle the country’s maritime row with Beijing in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea, but only if multilateral talks prove futile after four years.
Del Rosario said he is not opposed to bilateral talks. He said that timing is a factor if the new administration would enter into bilateral negotiations with China.
“We favor negotiations but the timing must be geared toward the conclusion of the arbitration because of so many reasons, the most valid is the tribunal. We must await the decision before we can start talking to China. Otherwise the judges are going to think twice about what we’re doing,” Del Rosario said.
He was referring to the arbitration case the Philippines filed against Beijing before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, wherein the country questioned the legality and validity of China’s nine-dash-line in the South China Sea.
Earnest Bower of the US-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies and one of the panelists at the ADRi EDCA forum, said China has to make an assessment if it wants to ignore the court and oppose the legitimate international proceedings.
Bower said if the Philippines would pursue bilateral negotiations with China without considering key factors, Manila would be undercutting its commitment to its Southeast Asian partners.
“The Philippines will lose the respect of its ASEAN partners and certainly, the United States will be disappointed,” Bower said.
But if the Philippines finds a way forward, including conditions that China will forgo its nine-dash line and commit to legally binding norms, bilateral negotiations would be a welcome development, he added.