What the US bases really mean under the VFA

"What role will the Senate play to meddle in what is supposedly an exclusive power of the President as chief executive?"


The US was stunned when President Duterte suddenly demanded the restoration of the visa of Senator Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa if it wants to continue the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). It was stunning and awfully childish, much that the US would easily accede to that outlandish demand, not to say of it as a cheap quid pro quo for our sovereignty.

The US knows that its stay in the Philippines is far beyond the bases; that continued access in the now-contested waters of the South China Sea is far more important than in keeping them. US claim of the Philippines as a former colony is a fact of history. What it is now fighting tooth and nail is to make its presence in the SCS incontestable, using the strategic location of the Philippine archipelago to anchor some kind of dominion over its vast mineral resources.

Qualitatively, the issue has evolved beyond seeking to maintain US presence in the SCS but in asserting that its flag can continue to fly across the Philippine archipelago, playing the role of secondary dominion to ward off littoral countries having claims in the vast resources in the South China Sea. This also explains why Filipinos continue to demand their dismantling; that their continued presence under the expanded cooperation agreement now serves as a historical marker that US colonialism is here to stay.

One must recall that it was President Marcos who first demanded the removal of the US bases. He was diplomatic and civil, beginning by seeking to reduce the term from 99 to 25 years, which former First Lady Imelda R. Marcos suspected that, if the US is allowed to extend the stay much longer, it might give them the right to own the area by prescription similar to what it did to occupy their base in Guantanamo, Cuba.

Marcos succeeded in reducing the stay of the bases from 99 to 25 years and the number from 23 base camps to just two. The government was also able to collect more than 700 million USD in military and economic assistance, an amount no administration has surpassed this to date.

Note that it was on September 16, 1966, during Marcos’ state visit to Washington, that a joint communiqué was issued, setting the stay of the US bases in the Philippines to 25 years. The negotiation over the US bases covered a wide range of issues but had for its ultimate objective the removal of the bases.

The areas of Clark and Subic were reduced; tax and import duty on goods brought in by US servicemen were imposed; a collective bargaining agreement for Filipino workers in the bases was concluded. Eventually we demanded jurisdiction over the bases although the US never truly gave up the issue of criminal jurisdiction for US servicemen accused of committing crimes in this country.

Problems remained even after the return of the US bases. The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) concluded during the abominable Noynoy Aquino administration gave the US wider access in choosing their bases. Today, they have five military bases, mostly built and sequestered from camps used by our soldiers and are mostly facing the South China Sea. Although President Duterte cited the problem of rent, he did not however mention that the Philippine government is practically shouldering payment for the consumption of water and electricity in the US bases.

The stay of the bases as embodied in Section 25, Article XVIII of the 1987 Constitution ended in 1991. The American-installed government never acknowledged that historic achievement of Marcos much that it was an embarrassing sequel in US history. It was not the explosion of Mount Pinatubo that caused the withdrawal of the US bases as many would insinuate but the date set in the Marcos-Johnson agreement.

The return of the bases initially under the guise of visiting forces had a different political objective of the Cold War. Securing the interest of the Philippines remains a camouflage to make it appear we owe it to them why we remain free. Former State Department Secretary Hilary Clinton already spelled out that the US may not come to protect the Philippines in the event of conflict with China in the South China Sea, but only if its own interest is directly affected.

It is on this basis why President Duterte is justified in demanding payment of rental. Senator Panfilo Lacson and Vice President Leni Robredo wasted no time branding the President’s demand for rental payment as an extortionist stance. Common sense will tell that a person must pay rent for use of a place not owned by him, unless the US servicemen are treated like dogs quartered just outside our gates.

The demand for rental payment for the use of the bases is constitutional and legal, and can never be termed as “extortion” as some of our stupid officials would categorize. Their interpretation reflects their inability to understand the issue for whatever they say, it is the US that needs the bases more than the Philippines for their defense.

Larson has failed to interpret that Section 21, Article VII of the Constitution as a treaty that is reciprocal to the parties. More so for it seems our self-styled vice president, being a lawyer, failed to comprehend that the US purposely refused to recognize the agreement as a treaty and instead called it an “executive agreement” for the reason that the US Senate refused to ratify the alliance similar to NATO to make the agreement automatically binding to the US.

Senators Lacson, Hontiveros and Robredo are telling the President to comply with the treaty obligation without them thinking that there is practically no treaty or agreement so to speak for him to comply. The US refused to ratify a treaty as formally required, thus making it non-binding to the Philippines even if our Senate made rigmarole of ratifying it as a treaty.

The question now is: What role will the Senate play to meddle in what is supposedly an exclusive power of the President as chief executive? There is no binding obligation for us under the protocol to observe the same procedure if the US refuses to ratify a treaty. This could even serve as eye-opener for our future president to abrogate an agreement without even informing the Senate should the US refuse to perform the same obligatory duty.

In fact, it was the US that excluded the Philippine Senate from participating in the formulation of our foreign policy by its categorization of the VFA and EDCA as executive agreements. We should stop making a monkey of ourselves by ratifying an agreement and calling it a treaty when the other party refuses to recognize it as such, more so if the President considers such agreement inimical to our national interest thus, letting the US have a dose of their own medicine.

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Topics: Visiting Forces Agreement , United States , Rodrigo Duterte , Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa , South China Sea
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