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TURNING POINT: VFA Termination: Another Presidential Joke?

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 09 February) — To terminate a defense pact – the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) on account of the cancellation of the tourist visa of Senator Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa, a loyal ally, the architect and strategist of President Duterte’s drug war is whimsical, puerile and reckless. The logical basis is weak and shallow. It negates the paramount truth on the exercise of sovereignty.

A sovereign state has the power and prerogative to allow the entry and stay of a foreign national in its territory for a certain period with or without a visa. Concomitant to that power is to deny entry or deny issuance of a visa to anyone, and/or to cancel a visa issued to him with no obligation to explain the reason behind. Call it discrimination or whatever, an alien cannot contest it. A state may discriminate for reason of security, national values and principles

The cancellation of Bato’s visa is a silly sovereignty issue. But a connect is made to his role in the war on drug, to alleged EJKs, and the incarceration of Senator de Lima, of which the position and acts of the US or its agents anent said issues are deemed interference on the country’s sovereignty, such, for instance, as the passage of the US 2020 federal budget that contains provisions on banning jailers of Sen. De Lima entry to the US. This could be the official justification now in the impending termination of the VFA.

Needless to say, the VFA termination as a lex talionis move to avenge Bato or to whatever unpleasant policy of the US is a misplaced an eye-for-an eye, a tooth-for-a-tooth retaliation, because instead of inflicting hurt to the US, the termination would hurt us more and gravely. In the words of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin: “Terminating the VFA will negatively impact the country’s defense and security arrangements as well as the overall bilateral relations of the Philippines with US, perhaps even with subregional and multilateral level.” Furthermore, the Philippines’ contribution to the regional defense which is “anchored in the country’s military alliance with the world’s last super power” would be adversely affected.

The assessment of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) made during the Senate hearing on Thursday, clearly shows that the continuance of the agreement is more beneficial to the country compared to any benefits were it to be terminated. Accordingly, since the VFA was in place in 1998, the Philippines has received from the US, grant – not loan, in the total amount close to $2 billion, the biggest haul of which came during PRRD’s term, 2016-2019,in the amount of $1 billion in military hardware, training, aid and funding for various projects. US assistance along this support projects against human trafficking, narcotics and cyberattacks and help in disaster response, intelligence and capacity building.

The intelligence assistance received by the AFP was crucial in winning the Zamboanga war against the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Marawi war against the Maute-ISIS terrorists. Moreover, the presence of US military personnel was strongly felt during natural disasters, such as in the wake of Ondoy and Yolanda. The US navy was the first primary responders in rescue, medical care, and in providing food and waters to the Yolanda survivors.

Development assistance in the same period worth $336.30 million (P17.05 billion) went to scholarships, seminars, projects on health, environment, agriculture, fisheries, trade, labor and governance.

Indirectly, close relations between Manila and Washington have also resulted in economic benefits as the US is inclined to give “preferential treatment” to its traditional allies, Locsin said.

The US is the Philippines’ “largest source of grants,” accounting for 36.89 percent ($886.47 million or P44.96 billion) of the total grant aid the country received in 2018, he added.

Accordingly, the VFA and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) give substance to our Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the US as expressed in above-mentioned military assistance. Moreover, they have, accordingly, provided assurance of immediate response, in zero time, meaning, if the country “is hit by an enemy, the enemy is hit in the same second.”

To terminate the VFA may yet lead to the dismantling, too, of EDCA, and in the weakening, suspension, if not the ultimate scrapping of the MDT. In this perilous time when our defense capacity is still terribly weak, such direction in foreign policy may only put our national security on unnecessary risk. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)

Even the President allies in the Senate expressed disapproval on the termination. The Senate as a whole favors a thorough review of the VFA to correct perceived imbalance on sovereignty concerns.

Locsin reported he has already prepared the notice of termination per instruction of the President but has not transmitted it yet to the US pending the direct order from the Commander-in-Chief.

The question is: Will the President give the order or dismiss his threat as another joke? (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)



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