[JURIST] The Supreme Court of the Philippines [official website] on Tuesday approved a deal that would extend US military presence in their country. The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) [text, PDF] will allow for the US to build more military facilities while maintaining military ships and aircraft in the country. In a 10-4 ruling, the court found that the agreement does not violate the Philippines constitution [text]. The US Embassy in the Philippines called [press release] the EDCA “a mutually beneficial agreement” between the two countries. The ruling comes during a time when China disputes the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea. The Philippines’ only defense in the area is a second-hand US military ship and two functioning fighter jets.
China claims nearly the entire 3.5 million square-kilometer South China Sea, a region believed to be rich in oil and minerals. China has come into territorial conflict over the region in the past not only with the Philippines [JURIST op-ed], but also with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. The Philippines and China were involved in a two month stand-off [Al Jazeera report] that started last April around the Scarborough Shoal, a small cluster of uninhabitable islands 220km off the coast of the Philippines which, according to international maritime law, fall into the Philippines’ economic zone. The standoff was triggered when Chinese vessels blocked the Philippine navy from arresting Chinese fishermen for alleged illegal fishing activities within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zones. The Permanent Court of Arbitration [official website] in The Hague ruled in October that it has jurisdiction to hear the dispute [JURIST report] between the Philippines and China over parts of the South China Sea.