By Modesto P. Sa-onoy
Now that the Philippines has sent a notice to the United States of its decision to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement, the VFA automatically terminates in 180 days from the date of the notice which was February 11.
Malacanang reported that US President Donald Trump in a phone call tried to prevail President Rodrigo Duterte from this unilateral move terminating the agreement. That seemed to suggest that the US president wanted to keep the VFA. But President Duterte was persistent to sweep that agreement under the rug. The report from the US indicates that Trumps just tried to express his dismay.
The report that eventually put an end to agreement was the retort of the US President. He noted that the US helped the Philippines in its campaign against ISIS-inspired militants in Marawi City in 2017 and that the two countries have a “very good relationship there. But I really don’t mind. If they would like to do that, that’s fine. You know, my views are different than other people. I view it as, ‘Thank you very much. We save a lot of money’.”
The reason of President Duterte’s decision is well-known. It was first the cancellation of the US visa of Senator Ronald Dela Rosa’s US visa, but now there are people citing many reasons for the abrogation. The President’s decision dismayed many Filipinos, but for the anti-Americans, like the communists and the leftists, they are happy and are praising Duterte for it.
The militants have been calling on the government to scrap the deal since 1999 claiming that the VFA favors the Americans, keeps our Philippine military forces dependent on US aid and even places the Philippines at risk of aggressive actions from American enemies like communist Russia, China and North Korea.
The Chinese did not make a public statement, but we can assume the Chinese government is happy with the termination. It takes out one of the stumbling blocks to their graduated moves to eventually takeover Philippine territories.
While the Philippine Senate recognizes the President’s authority to terminate agreements and treaties the senators are asking him to hold off on the decision while they conduct a review of the VFA and other agreements with America. Well, the deed is done, the debate on the VFA is already moot and academic. However, several senators plan to raise the issue before the Supreme Court because they believe Congress should have a say on the agreement that became binding only with the Senate’s approval.
Not wasting time, the activist women’s group Gabriela, called for the cancellation of Balikatan joint military exercises planned for 2020 after the notice of the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement was sent to the US. The scheduled exercise is still within the 180 days when the VFA finally ends. In fact, Gabriela pressed on the President by charging that he was not serious in cancelling the agreement if he allowed the exercise to proceed even for the last time. Gabriela called, it “business as usual” in effect questioning the sincerity of the President.
Three hundred military exercises and exchanges had been scheduled for this year, but these will be now cancelled since President Trump had agreed to the termination and all US military personnel except those in the US embassy will have to leave.
According to Malacañang, the termination of the VFA is “a move in the right direction that should have been done a long time ago.” This runs counter to the initial reaction of the US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper that the Philippine action is a “move in the wrong direction.” Esper’s remark is now moot because President Trump had agreed to the termination.
Defenders of the termination argued that the Philippine decision is on the wrong direction only from the American view because it favors them. This assumption had not been elaborated on how the US is favored more than the Philippines.
Some sectors believe that the President’s reaction on the cancellation of Senator de la Rosa’s visa was only an excuse. They suspected Duterte needed a plausible reason to move away from the Americans as he veers towards China. Indeed, President Duterte had been turning towards China since he took office and even talked about having closer ties with Russia. Many of his actions had been a shift towards the communist bloc.