American policymakers, aside from United States President Donald Trump, remained in a state of disbelief over the notice filed by the Philippine government to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the main body of rules on the presence of American forces in the country.
The pact ends in 180 days or sometime in August, time enough for negotiations to take place and cool down frayed nerves which they hope will end up with a handshake. The US Pentagon is banking on the negotiations to retain the agreement, which it is now turning out America needed more than Filipinos.
James Holmes, an authority on maritime strategy at the Naval War College where most of the best military minds are schooled, noted that both Trump and President Rodrigo Duterte are playing a geopolitical chess game at the grandmaster level.
He noted that for the US, the Philippine archipelago occupies prime real estate.
“If US forces cannot operate from Philippine bases, it’s hard to see how they can mount a standing presence in the South China Sea or along the island chain. Feuding between Manila and Washington might shatter a link in the chain — and grant Chinese shipping freedom of movement between the China seas and the Western Pacific,” he outlined the fears of Washington.
American forces would be in a strategic bind without the Philippines.
“Military forces can come and go, staging an intermittent presence. Men on the scene bearing guns might prevail in every tactical engagement that confronts them. But if they have to go elsewhere in search of places to rest, replenish and refit, they cede physical space back to even a defeated foe,” he explained.
Holmes’ view rings true in the case of the Scarborough Shoal standoff in 2012 when then President Noynoy Aquino bungled the situation by ordering the withdrawal of Philippine vessels. In contrast, Chinese ships stayed put and never left.
The military expert sees Rody as an astute negotiator.
“To get his way against another veteran dealmaker, President Duterte may be trying to generate an artificial atmosphere of crisis. The stakes, he believes, are high for the United States; options are few for the Pentagon; time is short now that he has put the two governments on a 180-day deadline to resolve their quarrel; and the Philippine chief executive is a master of uncertainty,” he noted.
Rody goes out of his way to be unpredictable, according to Holmes.
“For his part, President Trump, no stranger to being unpredictable, has indicated that he feels little pressure to strike a bargain favorable to Duterte,” he indicated.
The American expert continues: “These maneuvers will be instantly familiar to negotiations specialists. Savvy negotiators know that cultivating an attractive alternative to a negotiated settlement is the way to amass bargaining clout. Not caring is a powerful thing.”
Holmes, however, is merely trying to voice out the American officials’ wishful thought.
They should, however, live with the reality that the pact is on the way out, which was what the President had wanted from the start of his term when he adopted an independent foreign policy.
Rody had stated that nothing can change his mind regarding the termination of the concord that only brought mostly misery to Filipinos since its provisions are heavily stacked in favor of the Americans.
Likewise, Trump had made it plain that it was his way of thinking that ending the pact would save money for the US government.
Rody was too appreciative of Trump’s comments that he expressed his support for Trump to win another four-year term.
The two leaders seem to have struck a relation where both countries are on equal footing and not one dependent on another which was the hallmark of the incompetent past.