For today’s daily prompt, we are asked to post a link of a news and try to create an op-ed about it. So after reading a news published by The Philippine Star , here’s my long opinion about VFA and the current controversy.
There has been a series of discussion and debates regarding the VFA. The RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement is a bilateral agreement affected last 1998 upon ratification of the Philippine senate. However, it was not ratified by the US government as it considered this only as an executive agreement, which became one of the reasons for the continuing argument on the matter.
WHAT IS VFA?
In a nutshell, “The VFA is essentially about the treatment of U.S. armed forces and defense personnel who would be visiting the Philippines take part in activities covered by the 1951 Mutual defense Treaty and approved by the Philippine Government…The Agreement gives substance to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty by serving as legal framework in promoting defense cooperation between the Philippines and the United States,” as stated in the VFA Primer by the US Embassy.
Ideally, this agreement is for mutual benefits of two parties involved. Basically, the US can maintain their “temporary” stronghold in Asia by basing US Special Forces in the country while the Philippine Army can get enough military training as well as getting “second-hand” armaments. There are other provisions stated in the two-part agreement and should you wish to read more, you can do it here.
When former President Arroyo subjected the country to the then President Bush’s whims against Global War on Terror, the Philippines was again “visited” with the presence of American troops in the territory. But when that episode already lapsed and Bush stepped down, why did the VFA still remain? Are the “mutual” benefits that promising?
I’m afraid to say that it isn’t. Far from it. If I may be bold, I’d say it is a one-sided, unfair agreement to the benefit of America. I won’t bore you with most of the reasons for my sentiments, but for the news link which is the topic of this post, I’d like to bring up two controversial issues of the said agreement that caused demonstrations and violent protests in the country.
CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES ON VFA
The first one is about criminal jurisdiction. Which country would have jurisdiction to military personnel when he violates Philippine laws while in official mission in the Philippines? The answer might be obvious, but sadly, I’d like to prove you wrong. For in that scenario I have just mentioned, the United States must claim jurisdiction for the offending personnel.
It is not enough though that this remains as a scenario for it really happened last 2005 when a Filipina was proved to be gang-raped by four US Marines and Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, one of the four, was found guilty beyond unreasonable doubt by a Regional Trial Court in the Philippines
The experience that the Philippines had at this point was utterly embarrassing. For the US embassy insists that a US military personnel who violated Philippine law will remain under their custody during the trial and after a verdict has been issued. So in the end, Smith was transferred from a city jail to the US Embassy, with concurrence from the Philippine DFA and DILG. Many had banged their bloody fists for the unfairness and unconstitutional of it, but nothing happened.
Another controversial issue, which was strengthened by a current event, is the alleged dumping of toxic waste by US vessels to Philippine waters after last month’s military exercise, particularly in Subic Bay.
Last October 24, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS George Washington, docked in the Philippines. The super-carrier is 1,092 feet long, 257 feet wide and 244 feet high. It can accommodate 80 aircraft and carries more than 6,000 men. This was the third time this year that a US nuclear-powered ship would make a port call in the Philippines, Philippine Star reported. What kind of port of call was it? A timed one for toxic waste collection and disposal?
Even before, American troops already left their toxic wastes in Subic and Clark, but didn’t mind cleaning them properly as it was not stated in the Military Bases Agreement. There had been studies and investigations regarding the effects of toxic waste they left to the inhabitants of the former bases and it is sickening to know that both countries allowed such things to happen to innocent people, not to mention the environment.
With the re-election of Obama, it will not be surprising that the VFA agreement will continue along with its current provision. There will be more military exercises which may result to increase rape cases and toxic wastes as Obama vowed to help Asian countries for military modernization. Or for a counterweight to China in defense of the US interests in the region? Unless the Philippines will do something to it. Uncle Sam is not the one greatly affected, humiliated, and offended by the agreement anyway, so who must initiate the change?
VFA: TO ABORT OR REVISE?
Many Filipinos called for the abortion of VFA as it is a decade or so since this agreement has taken effect, but the results were minimal or worse, cannot be seen. Instead of the benefits that the country should have reaped, we were affronted with controversial issues which only marked the one-sidedness of the agreement. Yes, the two parties belong to different spheres of influence as proven by the difference in political and economic power, but as a mutual agreement, I think it is just enough for my country, the Philippines, to ask for more.
So what must we do, Filipinos? I say that is long overdue for us to stand for ourselves and not kowtow to ANY political and economic might that come our way. It is time for us to have our own game and rules. Yes, we are still forever defined as a developing country with little economic power, but there are other countries which are worse than us, but do they let themselves be underdogs of the hegemonic state? The country, and more importantly the people, is in deep slumber and we must now wake-up and not let the Philippines be a dumpsite in exchange of battered, hand-me-down military armaments. Of course, an active leader is necessary for the country to achieve this and both the President and Secretary of Foreign Affairs must do their best, with the help of the people, to protect the country’s national interest. Keyword: our national interest.
I am not for the abortion of the agreement. Instead, I am willing to have it revised in the terms laid out by the Philippines and agreed by the United States. It is a bilateral agreement, right? So why does it seems that it is always partial to Uncle Sam?
For the revision, I have read columns from my university dean who is always vocal about any topic of International Relations. I’d like to share his devised provisions:
“2) How much the US will pay us for using the VFA as the vehicle for maintaining a “light footprint” on our sovereign territory. Three Billion dollars should be the absolute minimum, with no strings attached please.
And in his other column, he had this dream conversation between the American and Filipino delegates:
I actually dreamt about the talks and it went this way:
PH: Will you retaliate instantly in case China blows us out of the water in Scarborough Shoal and other areas owned by us in the West Philippine Sea?
US: Well, we have the MDT…
PH: That is not the answer we are looking for. We know that the MDT does not provide for instant retaliation on your part. There is the constitutional processes provision in the Treaty which means you have to go to your Congress and that could take forever…
US: We can tell the Chinese to back off…
PH: Ok, we hear you… If you please, we will now take your leave. Thank you for hosting this meeting.
US: No, wait. We have been friends for a long time. Surely, we can find a mutually acceptable solution to this…
PH: We need your categorical commitment on this one first before we talk about other things. If you can’t do that, we’ll look for other ways to help ourselves. And if we may be direct, you have been taking us for a ride for over a century now.
US: How about we give you $3 billion a year with no strings attached for starters? We have just come to realize that, after all, Pakistan, for instance, which has not exactly been our friends has been getting so much, much more, from us. And we have never even had military bases or a single soldier stationed in that country.
PH: Now, you are talking. We want a small flotilla of warships, not like the old second-hand stripped coast guard cutter that you made us pay for. Oh, and we want a squadron of F16s. In exchange, we will help you attain your desired “expanded” presence in Southeast Asia by allowing you to have what you call a “light footprint” on our sovereign territory which we both know is a mere euphemism for basing your troops in our country… on a “rotational” basis is what you call it, right? We take it we will also revise the MDT to allow for instant retaliation in case either one of us is attacked by foreign forces. We should also amend the odious provisions of the VFA.
US: You drive a hard bargain. What if we stopped giving you aid?
PH: We will survive. A little over $100 million a year ain’t that much. We can easily cover that and more by clamping down on smugglers alone.
US: Removed our huge investments in your country?
PH: That’s up to your businessmen. They wouldn’t be in our country in the first place if they weren’t making any profit. But if they want to spite us by cutting off their noses, that’s their problem. We can always invite other foreign investors to take their place. We have a much better investment climate under President Aquino now, you know.
US: What if we boycotted all your exports to the US?
PH: We’ll look for markets elsewhere naturally… China maybe. It will be tough, but we will manage somehow.
US: What if we didn’t give your people visas to go to the US?
PH: That would be fine too. First, your visa fee is too high. Second, with the racial discrimination being experienced by our people in the US in recent times, we doubt they will want to go to the US anymore. They can go elsewhere.
US: What if we told other countries not to accept Filipino immigrants or tourists?
PH: Your call. Let’s see how they react.
US: What if we deported Filipinos without official papers now living here?
PH: Again, your call. We will be ready to receive them. You know, of course, the implications of such a move on human rights, about which you keep reminding us and the world at large.
US: What if we froze the assets in the US of your crooked government officials, politicians and businessmen?
PH: You’d be helping our Anti-Money Laundering Council a lot… Do we get our $3 billion or not? Review of the MDT and the VFA?
US: Ok, but please take it easy on our ambassador there. He really is a nice fellow, you know.
PH: Thanks. See you later this month when Presidents Aquino and Obama sign a new “maximized” agreement between us.
US: Ok. By the way, we have admonished Marion Barry and that Assistant Attorney General in Guam to stop discriminating against Filipinos.
That’s when I woke up.
*This post is written in response to the Daily Prompt titled IMHO for November 16, 2012.