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Philippines' Supreme Court decides military accord with U.S. is constitutional

The pact, also known as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, restarts a 65-year-old U.S.-Philippine alliance.

By Elizabeth Shim
Philippines' Supreme Court decides military accord with U.S. is constitutional
A satellite image of Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Beijing kept busy in 2015 with land reclamation activities on the disputed Spratly Islands, also claimed by Manila. File Photo courtesy of CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative / DigitalGlobe

MANILA, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- The Philippines' Supreme Court decided a military accord with the United States is constitutional, prompting anti-U.S. activists to hold protests Tuesday.

The agreement, finalized in 2014, had been stalled for two years because it was being contested legally, The Wall Street Journal reported.

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The pact, also known as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, restarts a 65-year-old U.S.-Philippine alliance after U.S. forces left the country about 20 years ago.

The 15-member court voted 10-4 in support of the military agreement with the United States, German newspaper Deutsche Welle reported.

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The ruling recognizes the military pact as an "executive agreement" signed by President Benigno Aquino III that cannot be nullified even after the current leader leaves office. The United States can now deploy thousands of Marines to the country, according to the deal.

The U.S. Embassy in Manila said the security 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."

U.S. military presence at Clark Air Base and Subic Bay would most likely be restored. Both bases are located near the South China Sea to supply "deterrence against further Chinese provocation," according to Richard Javad Heydarian, a security expert at De La Salle University in Manila.

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Beijing kept busy in 2015 with land reclamation activities on the disputed Spratly Islands, also claimed by Manila.

On Monday China said all flights departing from a recently finished runway was "totally within China's sovereignty," going against repeated warnings from the United States and its allies in the region to cease activities in an area also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The maneuvers have only strengthened U.S.-Philippine ties, and in November President Obama said Washington is committed to an "unbreakable alliance" with the country. The Philippines is slated to receive $79 million that includes training for the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard.

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Activists in the Philippines are opposed to the return of U.S. presence in the region. On Monday they called the ruling "untenable" and said it could transform the Philippines into a "launching pad for military intervention in the region."

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