Tue. Jun 15th, 2021

Is this another flip-flop?

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said President Rodrigo Duterte decided to suspend the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States because it would be untimely to do so in the light of the global crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. announced on his Twitter account Tuesday he had issued a diplomatic note to US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim that Manila is suspending the VFA’s abrogation “upon the President’s instruction.”

Duterte has ordered the VFA’s abrogation following Washington’s decision to terminate the US visa of administration-allied Sen. Ronald dela Rosa because of human rights violations he committed during the campaign on drugs, which he spearheaded as the chief of the Philippine National Police.

According to Article 9 of the VFA between the Philippines and the US, the withdrawal of American troops should take effect within 180 days from the receipt of the notice of withdrawal or until August 9, 2020.

The President of course does not need to explain his action as this matter is an exercise of a power reserved by the Constitution to his high office, and his office alone as Chief Executive. That includes to terminate, abrogate, cease, stop, cancel or suspend agreements entered by the State with another state.

But Locsin attempts at a “diplomatese”:

 “But in the vast and swiftly changing circumstances of the world in a time of pandemic and heightened superpower tensions, a world leader must be quick in mind and fast on his feet for the safety of our nation and the peace of the world,” he said.

I am not sure about that tail, “peace to the world,” as the US will definitely use this breather to leverage China especially as it moves towards finalizing its Code of Conduct with Asean insofar as the South China Sea is concerned, and as China, Japan and South Korea move with the Asean countries for post-Covid pandemic economic initiatives under the AP+3 Cooperation agreement.

The war-freak Americans have already sponsored propaganda pitting our BPS Conrado Yap capabilities against the Chinese Type 056 corvette CNS Liupanshui.

Meanhile, Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said he was not privy to the details leading to the President’s decision, so he needed to talk to him about it.

What I am sure however is that a lot of smart alecks especially among yellows and communist terrorist legal fronts will again surface, as well as reactions from the Duterte Diehard Supporters as if this decision warrants a loyalty-check.

But let me pick on some upstarts.

Tijam takes a shot

Noel Tijam was few years ahead of me in San Beda. Rodrigo Roa Duterte was a few years ahead of him in our College of Law.

The former associate justice shot a post in his Facebook account.

“The suspension of the abrogation of the VFA gives the President more elbow room to negotiate concessions from the USA. China will now pay more careful attention to the Philippines. SC might consider the case filed before it mooted.

“The President will now be in the good graces of the Senate, whom the President needs in this critical times. The destabilizers and the commies are placed in the back burner momentarily. Brilliant move of a deep thinker and chess player who knows and understands world politics.

“PDU30 is not an impulsive and erratic leader. His expletives and verbal outburst do not reveal his true persona. When some people look down on him condescendingly, they fail to see his thoughts and his vision. People are fooled by his uncouth Probinsyano outlook.

“People should really pay more attention to his actions rather than his expletives. PDU30 is not a politically correct person. He is a sensible practical Everyman and common man.”

I caught Noel Tijam sucking up to Duterte. “PDU30 is not an impulsive and erratic leader” is the understatement of the year.

The former justice failed in explaining crucial motivations behind the President’s move.

I am not saying Duterte’s decision to temporarily abrogate his abrogation is unwise. I am also not saying the abrogation was unwise.

What I am saying is this suspension or the temporary abrogation of his abrogation of the Visiting Force Agreement makes his abrogation in the first place look impulsive and erratic.

So what is Noel telling us about “People should really pay more attention to his actions rather than his expletives.” Which action? The abrogation or the temporary abrogation of his abrogation?

Why can’t he just say to do something more right: “Digong will risk appearing even frivolous if it were for the greater good of the country and the people?”

This has nothing to do with his being Probinsyano lest we are bigoted against the countryside.

This temporary abrogation of his earlier abrogation is in fact wisdom from all high.

It is all about money, money, money.

And the justification may be justifiable. We are hurting nearly in trillions of pesos because of Covid-19.

It looks like we can still recover the hundreds of billions of dollars we are about to lose due to his impulsive and erratic decision to abrogate the VFP.

Wasn’t that what President Donald Trump’s phone call to him was all about?

The President is just being practical. But is he being unprincipled?

Well money is a principle. In fact, it is a principal.

Money we save from spending our own, can be spent for the pandemic emergency. It can pay some more stimulus dole-out for the citizenry. It can cover up for deficits charged to erstwhile infrastructure. It can help stabilize our currency.

 The former associate justice, however, is right on one thing: “China will now pay more careful attention to the Philippines.”

I am almost tempted to think that Duterte asked Xi Jingpin to compensate us for the loss we would be incurring because of cancellations of assistance the abrogation caused, and China gave him a cold shoulder. This is a temptation that the Chinese Embassy can of course confirm or deny.

But the associate justice is wrong when he said “The suspension of the abrogation of the VFA gives the President more elbow room to negotiate concessions from the USA.”

Whatever we can get from the US has most likely been “offered” already, and that this action just meant Duterte just sent a signal that we are accepting the money to cure our ailing national budget due to Covid-19.

The real diplomat here is neither Teddy Boy Locsin or Del Lorenzana. I suspect either Ben Diokno or Sonny Dominguez experienced the recent eureka moment.

So instead of me agreeing with the Manila Times headline “Coronavirus pandemic helped save VFA”, that should have read instead: “Six more months of VFA can help save RP from Covid-19.”

So do I agree or disagree with the change of mind by the President?

Of course, as we are proving that we can use the Americans and not the other way around.

Remember, this just a suspension to give the Americans more room to move out.  Crucial months the US needs to maneuver itself out of a sticky re-election for Trump this coming November. That is what the six months are all about.

With the VFA brought above water, albeit temporarily, Trump can try another handle.

Trump trumped up a lot of bigoted charges against China as being the source of the coronavirus pandemic. That didn’t work because it was not true. (Read my series of 24 articles @SovereignPH.com, category “Covid-19” subcategory “Commentaries” from April 13 to May 29.)

Crippled because his indecision for two months has converted the US into the epicenter of the Covid scourge, Trump asked Scott Morrison of Australia to proxy for the West in organizing an international probe on China, but the prime minister almost lost all his fingers because the Chinese immediately cut all imports of beef and barley from down under, in a package of economic sanctions.

So Trump diverted into a resumption of an even bitter trade war, blacklisting Chinese companies doing business in North America. He even wowed the world by sending two men to space.

But one stupid cop kneed the neck of George Floyd sending a new kind of crisis across the US mainland – black-inspired riots and dirty burning and looting sending the US president to the mercy of the bible and the national guard.

But Trump’s balloon is deflating fast. Hollywood has already escalated its support for his Democratic opponent Joe Biden.

Taylor Swift’s was most graphic when she twitted @realdonaldtrump:

“After stoking the fire of white supremacy and racism your entire presidency, you have the nerve to feign moral superiority before threatening violence. When the looting starts, the shooting starts??? We will vote you out in November.”

When that twit came out last May 29, it immediately got more than 2 million hits, with about 600,000 people retwitting or commnenting on it.

Calibration is name of the game

This is why “to suspend” the VFA suggests Duterte calibrated his move.

What happens after six months and how it will impact our independent foreign policy is what is important to wait for. After all, he will still be president after November.

Duterte comes to Trump’s aid, but the tag is huge. I estimate what’s at stake here can ramp up to $400 billion plus whatever other concessions Trump gave Duterte.

For the meantime, Duterte can fill up all the gaps that Covid-19 caused in our economy, especially if Trump agreed that all that VFA assistance be monetized.

So Justice Tijam, stick to matters of law.

We do not need another Sal Panelo to translate to us what the President says. Digong communicates to us through our hearts and that is where the trust lies.

As to the analysis of politics, leave it to the pundits. (iamigo/SovereignPH.com)

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