President Rodrigo Roa Duterte scrapped the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) executed between the Philippines and the United States.
Under the VFA, American troops will make periodic visits to the Philippines to enhance the military capability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines through joint military training exercises in strategic areas in the country. Those exercises also confirm America’s presence in Southeast Asia.
The Philippines used to host American military bases in strategic points in the country, particularly Subic Naval Base in Zambales, and Clark Air Base in Pampanga. Under the administration of President Corazon Aquino, the lease on those bases was not renewed.
The ouster of the bases came when the Philippines had no viable military hardware to use in defending itself.
For many decades, the Philippines relied on its Mutual Defense Treaty with the USA, which made Manila complacent. With the bases out, the Philippines became vulnerable to external aggression.
The VFA was the next best thing to having American military bases in the Philippines. It allowed the Philippines to pompously herald its sovereignty, and it provided a means by which the USA can continue displaying its presence in this part of Asia.
The validity of the VFA was upheld by the Supreme Court, even if Washington DC did not consider it a treaty. Since then, Filipinos acquiesced in it.
Upon the instructions of President Duterte, the Department of Foreign Affairs communicated to Washington DC Manila’s decision to scrap the VFA. US President Donald Trump welcomed its cancellation, which he saw as a huge savings on the part of America.
From all indications, the cancellation of the VFA will also mean the demise of the Mutual Defense Treaty.
Evidently, President Duterte was provoked into cancelling the VFA by detained Sen. Leila de Lima and her allies in the moribund Liberal Party (LP). De Lima and her group succeeded in getting a few gullible US senators into believing that she is detained on baseless charges, and that she is being persecuted by the Duterte administration simply for speaking up against his government.
The truth is that De Lima is currently detained because of her alleged involvement in the narcotics trade during her stint as the Secretary of Justice. De Lima has exhausted all judicial processes to question her detention, but she has been unsuccessful.
With no other legal remedy available to them, De Lima and her allies began a disinformation campaign against President Duterte.
Their scheme apparently worked because a couple of obviously misguided US senators smuggled a rider in the 2020 US federal budget, which imposed a ban against entering US territory on all Philippine government officials involved in what the reckless American politicians summarily assumed was the violation of De Lima’s human rights. They did so without even pursuing a credible investigation into her real situation, and chose instead to believe the anti-Duterte yarn peddled by De Lima and the LP.
Soon after that, Sen. Ronald de la Rosa, whom De Lima’s disinformation campaign portrayed as a rights violator, found his US visa was cancelled. President Duterte considered that an act of bullying, and scrapped the VFA.
There are advantages and disadvantages to ending the VFA, but so far, the disadvantages have been getting the publicity.
One such disadvantage is that the Philippines will be virtually helpless in the event of a shooting war with any of its neighbors. As of the moment, the Philippines can only hope that such a shooting war does not break out in the predictable future.
Corollary to that, the end of the VFA and the Mutual Defense Treaty is rather unsettling for Filipinos concerned about the security of the country against external aggression, especially considering China’s continuing display of military might in the waters west of Luzon.
The fault for this mess lies not with President Duterte, who only acted in what he considers the national interest, but with De Lima and the LP for misleading American legislators into believing an inaccurate portrayal of the law and order situation in the Philippines.
De Lima and her LP allies should be ashamed of themselves.