Opinion

This Is Why We Did an About Face With the Visiting Forces Agreement

We're partners with a superpower.
IMAGE U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. 1st Class John Etheridge
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Merely four months after terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, the Philippine government has now realized the country needs it, after all.

The whole kerfuffle began back in January when President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to cancel the VFA if the U.S. did not restore Senator Bato Dela Rosa’s U.S. visa. The senator’s visa was cancelled after the U.S. government said it would prohibit entry of Filipinos who had a hand in the illegal detention of Senator Leila De Lima.

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Si Bato, ayaw nila papuntahin sa Amerika. I am warning you, this is the first time. ‘Pag hindi ninyo ginawa ang correction diyan, one, I will terminate the bases, the Visiting Forces Agreement. Tapusin ko 'yang p— ina,” Duterte told the U.S.

A month later, in February, Duterte made good on his threat and terminated the VFA.

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But now, he wants it back again.

The VFA is not perfect, but it has its benefits. Even foreign affairs secretary Teddy Locsin knows this.

"While the Philippines has the prerogative to terminate the VFA anytime, the continuance of the Agreement is deemed to be more beneficial to the Philippines compared to any benefits were it to be terminated," said Locsin in February.

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“To put it more graphically, the MDT without the VFA and EDCA is like a balloon without air,” he added.

Back in May 2017, the Siege of Marawi happened. Although the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is highly proficient in battling terrorists in the jungles, it was ill-equipped for urban warfare, and the terrorists knew this, which was why they occupied Marawi City. It raged on for months without a clear sign of victory for the government forces until the U.S. military stepped in with its high-tech equipment for urban warfare.

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Among other military hardware including night vision equipment, drones, and special forces that advised Filipino commanders, the U.S. also deployed to Marawi a P3 Orion surveillance plane, which was crucial in tracking the movements of terrorists within the city.

The city was finally retaken in October that year, with crucial help from the Americans, thanks to the VFA.

But assisting in fighting terrorists is not the only benefit of the VFA. Under the agreement, the U.S. is able to transfer valuable military aid to the Philippines, which our Armed Forces use to secure our territory.

From 2016 to 2019, the U.S. through the VFA, transferred $267.75 million (P13.58 billion) to the Philippines as part of its foreign military financing, which the Philippines used to purchase defense equipment.

Among the “defense equipment” purchased by the Philippines were the P16-billion brand-new warships from South Korea. The first one, BRP Jose Rizal, the country’s very first brand-new warship, arrived at Subic Port in May. The second one, BRP Antonio Luna, will arrive in October.

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Through the VFA, the Philippines is also receiving another $200 million (P10.14 billion) military financing from 2020 to 2021. The Philippines will use the funds for buying brand-new military aircraft and constructing military bases. It should be noted the Philippines has one of the weakest air forces in Asia.

The U.S. is also helping the Philippines through the VFA’s development assistance fund worth $336.30 million (P17.05 billion). The fund goes to scholarships and projects for health, agriculture, environment, labor, and enhancing governance.

These funds, which are worth more than a billion dollars, help the Philippine government fight terrorism, cyberattacks, human trafficking, and narcotics, things Duterte himself vowed to eradicate.

The Philippines is one of the few countries with which the United States has an official strategic alliance, which is all thanks to the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) signed by the two countries in 1951. The only other countries in Asia with this kind of special alliance with the U.S. are Japan and South Korea. Under the MDT, any armed attack on the Philippines will require the U.S. to defend the Philippines.

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The treaty also says the two countries will develop and maintain their capacity to resist armed attack. The VFA is one of the ways the U.S. is acting on its commitment to the MDT by making sure the Philippine military is well equipped and funded to fight internal and external belligerents.

The United States military remains unmatched by any superpower in terms of technology, firepower, sophistication, and sheer volume, including China, whose military technology is at least 20 years behind the U.S.

At this point in time, the U.S. is the nation with the greatest military power, and it looks like the Philippine government has realized that. 

 

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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