Doing away with the Visiting Forces Agreement

Sideglance

The President has made the right move although for the wrong reasons in finally scrapping the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) entered into by the country with the United States.

Even if it was due to the wrong reason (perceived as a retaliation for the cancellation of Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa’s US visa), the termination by President Duterte of the VFA is a step in the right direction for the country in finally owning its claim to equality with the US in terms of sovereignty.

Even without going deeper into what the VFA stands for any layman would easily understand that what the agreement means is that certain rights are being accorded to a group of individuals, in this context the US armed forces, who sojourn into the country for a temporary period of time, hence the word “visiting”.

Here anybody who meets the VFA for the first time would likely interpret the agreement as something that has to do with providing certain privileges and comforts for certain groups of foreign nationals who make it a point to visit the country. That is the plain and simple reason for the treaty.

The agreement is actually a means through which the country and the Filipino government has to bend backwards in trying to accommodate the actions of US forces while the latter is in the territorial jurisdiction of the Philippines and to a certain extent affording certain rights and privileges to these American forces not usually extended to other foreigners in the country.

Indeed the VFA is a bilateral treaty which according to records was negotiated between the Philippines and the United States almost two years before it was signed on 10 February 1998 by Secretary Domingo L. Siazon, Jr. for the Philippines and Ambassador Thomas C. Hubbard for the United States. In essence the agreement is actually “a mechanism for regulating the circumstances and conditions under which United States forces may visit the Philippines for bilateral military exercises.

The VFA governs the entry and exit of U.S. personnel in the country and establishes the manner of disposing of criminal cases against any of its members, who commits an offense in the Philippines. The VFA also establishes a procedure for resolving differences in that may arise between the two sides with regard to the provisions of the agreement.”

So the underlying basis for the VFA seems to be the annual joint military exercises and the presence of US soldiers in the country. However, it must also be pointed out that while the agreement is bilateral it is not really reciprocal in nature meaning there has been no instance where the Philippine forces visited the US territory and bilateral military exercises were conducted during the existence of the VFA.

Simply put the agreement is and has always been to the advantage of the United States which seeks to extend its influence and presence in South East Asia through these so called treaties.

And thus without any other compelling reason or justification to allow the VFA to remain, particularly when nothing about the interests of the Philippines seems to be included in the treaty, then President Duterte made the easiest call in his presidency when he scrapped the VFA.