Breaking away from the US

By Modesto P. Sa-onoy

Will the threat of President Rodrigo Duterte to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States come to reality? The Philippine president does not make idle threats so that if the US failed to comply with his demand that the visa of Senator Ronald de la Rosa is restored, then the break will come within this year.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenza claims that the Philippines can unilaterally terminate the bilateral VFA as he believes it is within the right of the Philippines to do so. Anyone of the two parties that considers it no longer needs the other can inform the other party of its decision and within 180 days, the decision takes effect.

Can the Senate that ratified this agreement to prevent the termination without its consent? Opinions vary but one thing is needed: a Philippine Supreme Court ruling on President Duterte’s authority to unilaterally break a treaty or bilateral agreement without the consent of a three-fourths vote of the Senate.

So far, the President has not officially done so but his subalterns, like Lorenzana and the Departments of Justice and Foreign Affairs are reported to be taking the steps for the VFA abrogation. The Presidential Commission on Visiting Forces has also started processing the termination of the VFA. Are these moves for real or mere saber-rattling to secure concessions?

If the agreement is terminated, then the national interest shall have been subordinated to the personal convenience of Senator de la Rosa although the US action can also be interpreted as American intervention in local affairs. The resolution of the US Congress sees it differently – it involves human rights.

The President’s displeasure with the resolution of the United States Congress to cancel de la Rosa’s visa apparently carries a lot of weight in the present government that the negative and counterproductive consequences of the move are set aside. The abrogation of the agreement will have an impact far beyond the term of President Duterte and will affect thousands of Filipinos and the security of the country.

So far, the termination of the VFA is a threat but US President Donald Trump is one president who cannot be bullied. The US visa, as a visa of any country, is not a right but a privilege that may or may not be given without an explanation. A cancellation or denial does not bar a renewed application.

The US Congress resolution did not target Senator del la Rosa alone but also people who had a hand in the imprisonment of Senator Leila de Lima and obliquely those who are believed responsible for human rights violations. It just happens that De la Rosa is a prominent figure among the President’s closest allies and has been accused as a primary enforcer of government actions that the US considered a violation of human rights.

The VFA was entered into by the Philippines and the United States in 1998 to allow American and Filipino troops to conduct joint training operations in Philippine territory. But the agreement is more than that – it shows the close defense alliance of the two countries and a sharing of skills in defense matters. Filipinos learn a lot from these exercises especially on the latest military hardware and tactics and coordination for Philippine defense. It even includes American participation in the war against drugs, terrorism, and piracy. Without the agreement, all these assistance will also terminate and the Philippines, already hampered by the lack of many means, will be alone to fight its wars. As Senator Richard Gordon asked: can we do it alone?

The termination of the VFA will benefit China, not only because it would bring the Philippines closer to it and even be counted as a China ally, but also because the Philippines shall have lost a military shield against the Chinese incursions. The US stands as our safeguard and without that protective shield, China will be more emboldened to encroach into our territory that China claims to be theirs for ages.

Will China fill the vacuum? That is a result China would be praying for. And with China, the leftists, the Islamic terror groups, the communists and the drug lords in the Philippines will be celebrating.

The issue of Senator De la Rosa’s visa and Senator Leila de Lima’s incarceration can be threshed out through diplomatic channels.