Mon. Apr 12th, 2021

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte formally communicated to the United States the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States.

The demons left him with no choice.

The US Senate resolution No. 142 of the 116th Congress sponsored by Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, condemned the government of the Philippines alleging “its role in state-sanctioned extrajudicial killings by police and other armed individuals as part of the War on Drugs” and “the arrest and detention of human rights defenders and political leaders who exercise their rights to freedom of expression.”

It called on the President of the United States “to impose sanctions pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act” and specifically called for the Philippine government to immediately release Senator De Lima, whom the US senators considered as a prisoner of conscience and to drop all the charges against Maria Ressa and Rappler.

Both Ressa and De Lima are presently under the jurisdiction of the Philippine judiciary.

US Senate 142  dated January 8, 2020 was initially inserted as a “continuing resolution” into the US General Appropriation Act that was signed by President Donald Trump into law.

Nine days after, Navy flag officer in command Vice Adm. Robert Empedrad declassified information before journalists, that sometime November last year, BRP Conrado Yap, the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) vessel of the Philippine Navy detected a United States submarine plying below the surface in Palawan, within the 12-mile territorial waters of the Philippines.

According to Empedrad, the US vessel violated the protocol requiring submarines to surface when conducting innocent passage through a country’s territorial waters.  “If the waters around the archipelago were drained, one may find at least 50 submarines surrounding us,” he said.

Five days following the Empedrad disclosure, Senator Ronald ‘Bato’ dela Rosa announced that his visa to the United States has been cancelled.

That finally sent Duterte’s blowing his top.

Since he assumed office on July 1, 2016, exchanges between the Philippines and the US have been marked with difficulty and color.

First came Washington’s refusal to sell weapons to the Philippine military and police to leverage its perception of President’s war on drugs as bloody.

“Instead of helping us, the first to hit was the State Department,” Duterte squared it off by saying “So you can go to hell, Mr. Obama, you can go to hell.”

As the two heads of state prepared for the Asean Summit in Laos on September 2016, the US State Department announced that the Obama-will question Duterte’s war on drugs at their scheduled one-on-one meeting.

The Philippine president told the reporters they would be “wallowing in the mud like pigs” as he would not take orders from the US.  If he would do so, “Son of a whore, I will curse him in that forum.”

As a result, the one-on-one was put off.

In a recent interview with Russia Today, Duterte did not mince words expressing his premise, “America continues to look at us as a vassal state because we were under the Americans for 50 years and they lived off the fat of the land before we got our independence.”

But recent developments were leading the President to fry in his own oil, so he had to act fast. Fake news started to creep into the discussion.

1) Our subservient Senate thought he was trivializing over Senator Bato’s visa so they passed a resolution for him to reconsider his position. This only goes to show how many in our upper house reports really to the American Embassy.

2) Testifying before the Senate, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. softened his earlier affirmation of the President’s direction.

Teddy Boy rattled off numbers to highlight goodies we got from Uncle Sam. He spoke of P13.58 billion from 2016 to 2019 and P12.34 billion from 2020 to 2021 in military financing. He added P17.05 billion more for scholarships, seminars, projects on health, environment, agriculture, fisheries, trade, labor and governance and buttered US assistance support projects against human trafficking, cyberattacks and narcotics, and help fund disaster response and intelligence and capability-building.

Wow, thank you, USA.

But the hardsell failed when Locsin said “Without the VFA, the US Departments of State and Defense may have difficulty in requesting funds from the US Congress for FMF (foreign military financing) and other defense assistance programs to the Philippines.”

This is false and we ain’t uninformed dummies.

The US and the Philippines entered into three main treaties after the former restored the latter’s sovereignty in 1946.

First as an offshoot of World War II, U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Paul McNutt and Philippine President Manuel Roxas signed a Military Base Agreement (MBA) in March 1947 granting the United States the right to control of twenty-three military installations, including Clark Air Base and the extensive naval facilities at Subic Bay, for a lease period of ninety-nine years.

Second following the Philippines’ enlistment into the Korean War, the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) supplemented the bases agreement. It emphasized a mutual commitment to peacefully resolve international disputes, separately or jointly developing capacity to resist attack, and the need for consultation when the territorial integrity, political independence, or security of the United States or the Philippines is under threat of attack in the Pacific.

What is being grossly overlooked is a third treaty, the Military Assistance Agreement (MAA), signed one week after the Military Bases Agreement, providing for arms assistance, training and the use of US facilities and vessels by the Philippine Armed Forces.

The 1947 Military Bases Agreement, the 1947 Military Assistance Agreement (MAA) and the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty served to integrate the Philippines into emerging United States security arrangements in the Western Pacific.

The Visiting Forces Agreement (February 10, 1998) is just an executive agreement, not a treaty because the US Senate did not ratify it.

This mongrel (Tag. “askal”) actually cures the absence of US boots on the ground in the Philippines as an offshoot of the formal termination of the Military Basis Agreement on December 21, 1992, while merely restating the right we already have for military training and assistance under the Military Assistance Agreement.  

In a very real sense the MAA was only used as icing to the VFA cake.

The VFA in fact served as the revolving door to legitimize the return of American presence in the Philippines while the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed April 28, 2014 allowed actual basing with a touch of permanence albeit renewable every ten years, in order to accommodate no longer visitors but residual forces at any given time and inclusive of substantial flow of materiel and equipment.

The US recently identified five Philippine bases where they intend to build EDCA facilities – Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Antonio Bautista in Palawan, Benito Ebuen in Cebu and Lumbia in Cagayan de Oro.

This may augur not so good things to come. With vote of 170 to 0, the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution after Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Solimani, ordering all foreign military to leave the country. The US refused to pack up and go claiming ridiculous compensations if they did including 50% of Iraqi oil, and confiscation of all Iraqi money and assets in the US.

Something tells me BS Aquino III was not just a village idiot but a traitor signing the EDCA. What really in our Mutual Defense Treaty and Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement serves as a deterrent against external attack?

Did it prevent Japan in World War II to simultaneously attack Pearl Harbor and the Philippines on December 8, 1941? Or was it precisely the American presence that served as magnet to eventually cost the lives of one million Filipinos.

As President Duterte puts in his famous slang, “We have been fighting the communists for 53 years. If America has really helped us, son of a b****, how come we are still dealing with them?”

“Things change.”

Ricardo Saludo is not Nostradamus or a rocket scientist, but was full of common sense when he said that.

He offered a simple illustration, “When the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States was ratified by the Senate in 1999, the US was not a major rival of China, and there were hardly any threats of war involving American forces in Asia. So, rotating them in the country for such purposes as external defense, counterterrorism, and military exercises, did not undermine our security.

“Things are vastly different two decades on. China is now a rising superpower often locking horns with the US.”

What Saludo is saying is when push comes to shove, “The 3-million strong People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the world’s largest military, will not hesitate to target and take out hostile forces operating in the Philippines, especially vessels and aircraft capable of nuking China from here. And that’s exactly what the VFA allows the US military to do.”

There a single thread that runs through all wars that are now going on in the world, as we speak. The US is the aggressor.

So, who will protect us from the United States?

Ado Paglinawan served as press attaché and spokesperson in the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC from 1986 to 92 under Ambassador Emmanuel Pelaez, and concurrently at the Philippine Mission to the United Nations in New York from 1989 to 90. He was also seconded to the 1987 Peace Talks with the Moro National Liberation Front and the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army. -Ed.

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