The Supreme Court of the Philippines put off again for the second time the decision on the legality of a new defense pact with the United States, raising doubts about an agreement the would allow US forces to have access to military bases in the Philippines.
The Philippines has long been a loyal United States ally and the new defense pact is widely seen as important for both parties as the Philippines battle an assertive China in the disputed South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) has become held up in the Supreme Court because of the left-wing Philippine politicians and others that are challenging the constitutionality of the said pact.
After the court fails to make a decision on it last month, as expected, a court source said that the 15-member bench was likely to uphold the constitutionality of the defense agreement at its Dec. 16 meeting.
But Theodore O. Te, the court spokesman, have failed to comment on the agreement when he briefed the media on Wednesday.
According to another court official, some judges asked for more time to consider the opinions of those who argue the deal, senators must sign the deal because it is a treaty and not an executive agreement.
The court will resume meeting again on Jan. 12.
A US Pacific Fleet Commander, on Monday, warned of an arms race as nations become increasingly tempted to use force to settle disputes in the South China Sea.
Recently, an Australian military surveillance plane flew over the South China Sea, the crew warned China’s navy it was on a freedom of navigation mission, but the Chinese navy didn’t respond.
After the event, a Chinese state-owned newspaper issued a strongly worded warning to Australia:
“Australian military planes better not regularly come to the South China Sea to ‘get involved’ , and especially don’t test China’s patience by flying close to China’s islands.
“Everyone has always been careful, but it would be a shame if one day a plane fell from the sky and it happened to be Australian,” the newspaper said.
Patrick Cronin of the Washington-based Center for a New American Security said that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) was essential to the US re-balance to Asia.
A ruling against it would be “a major setback to upgrading the Philippine armed forces and rejuvenation of the alliance with the United States,” Mr. Cronin told Reuters.