Philippine lawmakers ask court to halt new U.S. defense pact

MANILA Tue May 27, 2014 4:37am EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama walks out to speak to military troops at the Fort Bonifacio Gymnasium in Manila, April 29, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. President Barack Obama walks out to speak to military troops at the Fort Bonifacio Gymnasium in Manila, April 29, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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MANILA (Reuters) - A group of left-wing Philippine lawmakers on Tuesday petitioned the Supreme Court to immediately halt a new defense pact with the United States, saying it was barred by the constitution.

The petition by members of the lower house of Congress was the second legal challenge this week to the pact, and is bound to draw attention to President Benigno Aquino's battles with the courts.

The courts have blocked many of the government's reforms since Aquino came to power in 2010, including a landmark law creating a truth commission to examine the wrongdoings of past administrations.

Manila and Washington last month signed a new Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) to allow U.S. forces wider access to local bases and construct facilities to store logistics for maritime security and disaster operations.

Congressmen Neri Colmenares, Antonio Tinio, Terry Ridon, and Luz Ilagan and street activists led by Renato Reyes asked the Supreme Court for a temporary order to restrain implementation of the pact.

"The Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) is a basing agreement that is not allowed under the 1987 Constitution, except under stringent conditions," the lawmakers said in their petition on Tuesday.

"EDCA is so grossly lopsided in favor of the U.S. that the secrecy surrounding its negotiations can only be viewed as an attempt to thwart any criticism or even public debate regarding its content."

On Monday, two former senators, who voted to evict two large U.S. military bases from the Philippines in 1991, had asked the high court to rule that the pact was unconstitutional, saying the government had failed to uphold and protect the country's sovereignty and national interests.

Aquino said he was not worried by the legal challenges to the military pact with the United States, the Philippines' former colonial master and oldest ally in the Asia-Pacific region.

"That was expected," he told reporters at a naval base on the western island of Palawan. "It was expected that there would be quarters that would file it."

The 15-member Supreme Court is expected to take up the petitions next week. Aquino does not control the court but has an unprecedented majority in both houses in Congress.

The military said the accord could upgrade the country's ability to deal with external threats, including intrusions across its vast maritime borders.

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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