(From Reuters)

The Philippines Supreme Court declared a security deal with the United States constitutional on Tuesday as anti-American protesters rallied outside, allowing an increased U.S. military presence in the former U.S. colony as tension rises in the South China Sea.

U.S. military forces take part in the annual military exercise in northern Philippines
U.S. military forces take part in the annual military exercise in northern Philippines

Manila has long been a staunch U.S. ally and the pact is widely seen as important for both sides, which are worried by China’s increasingly assertive pursuit of territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea.

The court voted 10-4 to deny a petition of some lawmakers and activists to declare the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) unconstitutional because it surrendered Philippine sovereignty to a foreign power.

“EDCA is not constitutionally infirm,” said Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te. “It remains consistent with existing laws and treaties that it purports to implement.”

The pact was signed days before U.S. President Barack Obama visited the Philippines in 2014. It will allow U.S. troops to build facilities to store equipment for maritime security and humanitarian and disaster response operations, in addition to broad access to Philippine military bases.

U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain called it “a landmark agreement … (that) will bring our alliance to a level of cooperation and integration that we have not witnessed in decades.

“As Manila finds itself the target of Chinese coercion in the West Philippine Sea and is looking to Washington for leadership, this agreement will give us new tools to … expand engagement with the Philippine Armed Forces, and enhance our presence in Southeast Asia,” he said in a statement.

McCain said he looked forward to implementation this year of a congressional Maritime Security Initiative he has championed that will provide resources to build the maritime capacity of the Philippines and other Southeast Asia countries.

The court ruling came hours before the Philippine defense and foreign ministers were to hold talks with U.S. counterparts in Washington that will cover the South China Sea and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Dozens of anti-U.S. activists held protests outside the court denouncing the deal as a de facto basing agreement that would make the Philippines “a launching pad for military intervention in the region”. Read more

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