Renato Reyes, Jr.
March 3, 2009
The Department of Foreign Affairs. Department o f Justice and the Department of National Defense are singing the chorus that the VFA is indispensible and that we stand to lose the huge benefits from the accord. The alleged benefits are spelled out in terms of “counter-terrorism” training and “humanitarian missions”. The DFA released a fact sheet last week detailing the benefits from the VFA.
DFA: “The RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) is crucial to building a strong Philippines and maintaining a stable Asia-Pacific.” As an integral part of the network of alliances in the Asia-Pacific, the VFA helps preserve peace and stability in an era of uncertainty brought on by the emergence of non-traditional threats to security. The VFA implements the Philippines’ only military alliance and its most effective deterrent against any potential aggressor.
We say: More than anything, it is the US which is most interested in maintaining is military presence in the Asia-Pacific region as part of its forward presence and power projection against potential rivals. US military deployment in the region serves primarily US geo-political and economic interest. The same could be said for the time when the US had military bases in the country. The justifications then were the “cold war”. Now it’s the “war on terror”. Whatever they call it, it’s the same drive for US hegemony.
The DFA says that the VFA is a deterrent to external aggression. Aggression from whom? The Chinese? The Japanese (again)? As far as we know, there are no external threats confronting the Philippines. We are not at war with any country. And if the VFA is so concerned with external threats, why is it being invoked to address INTERNAL threats including the Abu Sayyaf?
Furthermore, how exactly does the VFA build a strong Philippines when it undermines our judiciary and our institutions for governance? The Smith incident and his continuing detention in the US embassy is a clear example of how the VFA weakens our institutions because it insists that US troops enjoy exemptions and special treatment.
DFA: “The VFA is essential to RP-US cooperation in the Philippine Defense Reform Program.” As a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA), the Philippines enjoys priority status in sourcing Excess Defense Articles.
We say: The status of the MNNA was “bestowed” on us in 2003 during Arroyo’s meeting with Bush. It was a “reward” for Arroyo’s support for the unjustified US invasion of Iraq.
Being a major Non-Nato Ally means we get Excess Defense Articles or US military hand-me-downs. This is nothing new because even during the time of the US bases, we got some $140 million in second hand stuff. The question we should ask is, “despite all that second hand gear, why is it that the AFP still failed to modernize?” The AFP did not modernize when we had US bases here. It certainly won’t modernize from arms surplus from the US now.
The Federation of American Scientists in an article said “Not wanting to pay the costs of storing or destroying the surplus, the Department of Defense dispenses most of it for free or at deep reduction through the excess defense articles (EDA) program… Among the leading recipients of free weapons through the EDA program in 1996 were Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Bahrain and Turkey — all countries where serious political repression and/or human rights violations were reported.”
The Philippine government, with its gross human rights abuses, fits perfectly in the profile of big-time EDA recipients.
On the other hand, what do the Americans get from the VFA?
They are allowed the entry of an unlimited number of troops who can be stationed in the Philippines for an unlimited period of time. They have been stationed in Zamboanga, inside Camp Navarro, since 2002. They have set up there a headquarters for the Joint Special Operations Task Force- Philippines. They have a virtual base even in the absence of a basing treaty. They are no longer just visitors since they’ve been staying from almost seven years now. We can’t really monitor who goes in and out because they’re not required to get visas.
The VFA is some ways worse than the bases agreement because it is in effect indefinitely unlike the Military Bases Agreement which expired in 1991.
The US troops gets special treatment when legal issues arise.
The US forces do not pay customs duties and are not required to secure visas.
At any given time, there are US troops stationed in the country. It’s as if the bases never left.
DFA: The VFA generates income for the country… provided revenues for the AFP amounting to US$706,425.28 from seventy (70) recorded transactions. United States ship visits to the Philippines have brought in $ 5 million and $ 9.5 million in 2006 and 2007, respectively, as proceeds from the replenishment of supplies and logistics.
We say: This assertion smacks of utter mendicancy. Just because we get a few million dollars in supposed income, the DFA thinks that the VFA has become indispensable. “Extra income” doesn’t make a compelling argument for indispensability. Neither do second-hand military equipment or even medical missions. These do not make the VFA “indispensable” as the DFA insists, especially when taken in the light of national sovereignty.
During the negotiations for the renewal of the RP-US bases agreement, there was an estimate that the Philippines would be getting some $730 million all-in yearly compensation. Still, this did not convince Philippine senators to ratify the treaty. And rightly so. Sovereignty should not have a price tag.
DFA: The VFA facilitates RP-US cooperation eliminating the scourge of terrorism and in rebuilding in times of disaster.
We say: The scourge of terrorism is a dangerous and sweeping term considering that the US and Philippine governments have a penchant of using the terrorist label on legitimate liberation movements and critics of US policies. In the context of the Bush “war on terror”, US deployment globally is meant to protect and advance US hegemonic interests. The “war on terror” has been totally discredited especially after the invasion of Iraq and the scandals at Guantanamo.
So-called “terrorism” falls outside the threats contemplated under the Mutual Defense Treaty from which the VFA takes its cue. And if the DFA is referring to efforts at neutralizing the bandit group Abu Sayyaf, we believe that this should be properly handled by Philippine authorities as a domestic issue and not subjected to US intervention. The ASG threat has become such a convenient excuse to have US troops in Mindanao that one wonders if the ASG’s continued existence is meant to justify continuing US presence.
DFA: The VFA directly benefits the Filipino people through its civil-military and humanitarian component.
We say: Why does the Philippine government make such a big deal out of these dental and medical missions conducted by the US troops? Clearly the so-called “humanitarian” missions are merely part of the bigger military objectives of intervention. These civic actions are meant to increase public acceptance of the interventionist force, as admitted to by the documents of the US Pacific Command. If the US military occupation in Iraq conducts medical and dental missions, does that change the fact that they are a foreign occupation force?
The Philippine government has the primary role in providing medical services to its people. These services can be undertaken even without the presence of American soldiers in our barrios, if only the Philippine government prioritizes health and other social services.
One time, US forces in Sulu ordered a hospital in Panamao town to close not later than 6pm because US forces felt the presence of a public hospital near their encampment was a security threat.
DFA: The VFA is a concrete manifestation of the enduring alliance between the Philippines and the United States. Clearly, the strategic defense relations, with the VFA as its anchor, have been instrumental in strengthening the country, securing its stability and in ensuring its continued prosperity.
We say: The so-called enduring alliance has dragged the Philippines to the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the US invasion of Iraq. This alliance has supported US aggression worldwide, dragging us into wars not of our own choosing.
This alliance is lopsided in favor of the US. This alliance does not serve national interest. These relations are not built on mutuality and reciprocity. Look at VFA 2 and see how differently Filipino troops are treated compared to their American counterparts in VFA 1.
That the VFA is useful for national development is an unsubstantiated and outrageous claim. Given the fact that the country is in the throes of a crisis, it is ridiculous to even claim that our “strategic defense relations” with the US has been instrumental in strengthening the country, securing its stability and in ensuring its continued prosperity.
We can certainly do without the VFA. Nothing in this agreement makes it indispensable. In fact, there is even urgency to rid ourselves of this one-sided pact and to reassert our national sovereignty. ###