November 16, 2015 / 11:33 AM / 4 years ago

As Obama visits, Philippine court delays ruling on military deal

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippine Supreme Court did not announce an expected decision on Monday on whether a new U.S.-Philippine security agreement was constitutional, a spokesman said, a reverse for President Barack Obama as he heads for Manila to attend an Asia-Pacific summit.

A court source had said last week that the court was likely to uphold the constitutionality of the deal, and that a formal decision from the 15-judge bench would be made on Monday, ahead of Obama’s arrival on Tuesday. Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said after the court closed for the day that he had not received any word of a ruling.

He declined to elaborate, but a court source said one of the judges had asked for a postponement and that the ruling could come in mid-December.

The deal gives U.S. troops wide access to Philippine military bases and approval to build facilities to store fuel and equipment for maritime security, but it was effectively frozen after left-wing politicians and other opponents challenged its constitutionality last year.

The growing tension between the United States and China over Beijing’s island-building in the disputed South China Sea could come up at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

Manila has said it will not raise the South China Sea dispute at the summit to avoid embarrassing Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is also attending, although it has contested claims with Beijing over territory in the sea. But Philippine officials say they will not be able to influence what is said at bilateral and other meetings on the sidelines of the summit.

U.S.-Philippine military ties are already robust.

Philippine military officials say there has been an increase in U.S. exercises, training and ship and aircraft visits in the past year under Obama’s “rebalance” to Asia.

But the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), signed just days before Obama last visited Manila in April 2014, would take the relationship a step further, partly by giving U.S. forces broad access to the Philippines.

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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