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A red rag to a bull

MANILA (UCAN): The Promotion of Church People’s Response, a national alliance of Church-based organisations in The Philippines, is protesting against a court decision declaring a military agreement that allows an increased presence of United States of America (US) military personnel in the country constitutionally valid.

“We are saddened by the court decision,” Nardy Sabino, a spokesperson for the group, said.

The Supreme Court voted 10 to four against a petition to declare the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement unconstitutional on January 12.

The deal was signed by both Manila and Washington in 2014 as a de facto agreement that makes The Philippines a launching pad for military intervention by the US in the region.

Aside from giving the US military access to Philippine military bases, the agreement allows troops to build facilities to store equipment for maritime security, as well as humanitarian and disaster response operations.

Sabino said that all the court looked at was the legality of the agreement, but not its implication as a red rag to counties involved in the South China Sea dispute. “The deal will only worsen the dispute in the South China Sea,” he forecast.

Beijing’s land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea have raised tensions in the region, alarming Washington. The Chinese leadership claims almost all of the important water way as its own sovereign territory.

Washington has said it will support both its allies in the region and international norms in relation to freedom of navigation of the seas.

Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez, from Marbel, who has expressed opposition to the military agreement, urged people to pray against war and other forms of threats to God’s creation.

“War is not good. It is destructive. It destroys God’s creatures. We need to protect lives,” the bishop said on January 13.

He added that the Philippine government should prioritise its antipoverty programmes instead of military alliances.

Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, from Jaro, said the agreement is a manifestation of how some Filipinos want to be stateside, or go to the US. “We cannot change history. Filipinos want to be stateside in many ways, even those who do not go to the US,” he said.

Although The Philippines was an US colony for only half a century, its presence and influence in the country continues.

On the other side of the coin, Bishop Honesto Ongtioco, from Cubao, said Filipinos should leave the issue of the military agreement to the government. “I trust our civil leaders that they will make a good decision,” he said.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the president of the bishops’ conference, recognised the complexity of the issues involved, saying in a statement issued in 2014 that the bishops have no official stand on the issue, even as they recognise the moral implications of the use of force and the threat of the use of force.


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