• Court rules military agreement doesn't need Senate concurrence
  • U.S. Embassy says deal will strengthen bilateral relations

The Philippines’ top court upheld the validity of a defense agreement with the U.S., in a ruling that will help the nation counter China’s push for control of disputed areas in the South China Sea.

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, an accord that would boost the U.S. military’s presence in the Southeast Asian nation, merely enforces a mutual defense treaty they signed in 1951, Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te told reporters in Manila on Tuesday, citing the ruling.

“EDCA is not constitutionally infirm,” the court said in dismissing separate lawsuits filed by former Senator Rene Saguisag and a militant group. “As an executive agreement, it remains consistent with existing laws and treaties that it purports to implement.”

The Philippines lacks the military muscle to defend itself against China, which has stepped up its reclamation of islands in the disputed water over the past year, building runways for military aircraft. A U.S. Navy warship sailed near Subi Reef in the disputed Spratly Island chain in October in a challenge to China’s claims.

The military agreement, signed in 2014, allows the U.S. military to increase the number of troops deployed to the Philippines for war games, as well as bringing equipment into military sites including Subic Bay, the former site of a U.S. naval facility.

The high court ruled that President Benigno Aquino is empowered to enter executive agreements that don’t require Senate concurrence, Te said.

The pact “is a mutually beneficial agreement that will enhance our ability to provide rapid humanitarian assistance and help build capacity for the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” the U.S. Embassy in Manila said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday. The deal would further strengthen bilateral relations, it said.

An international tribunal in The Hague has ruled it has jurisdiction to hear the Philippines’ claims against China’s bid to assert control over one of the world’s busiest waterways. The Permanent Court of Arbitration held hearings on the issue in November and is expected to rule on the Philippines’ assertions despite China’s rejection of the proceedings.

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