"The President is well within his powers to seek the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement."
As expected, former Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose “Joey” Cuisia has come out of the woodwork warning President Duterte that terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Unites States would only benefit China.
Malacanang should just ignore Cuisia’s warning and proceed with the VFA review and, if, warranted terminate it. The longtime former executive of Philamlife and other US-owned or -affiliated companies and a staunch supporter of that long problematic US (deep state?) projection as the “world’s policeman,” Cuisia should be one of the last persons who can speak objectively about the continuing need for an untouched RP-US VFA. To him and his ilk, this arrangement is so favorable to the Philippines that to even tweak is would be tantamount to selling the country down the drain.
Why he has even gone to the extent of insinuating that the newly acquired Navy cutters which he has so romantically described as the “workhorses patrolling the West Philippine Sea” have been given free by the US under the VFA, saying that “the United states won’t likely ask to get these back when they pull out”? Again, he should be the last person to even suggest so.
I remember he was still the envoy to Washington when our armed forces was forced to pay an arm and a leg for under armor or even unarmed armored personnel carriers (APCs) from US army surplus. The same amount of money could have bought us more armed and newly refurbished APCs from another source which was blocked by US authorities. Cuisia did not even raise a howl over this obvious cavalier, unfriendly gesture.
Well, it is time to tell Cuisia and his cohorts that we cannot have that kind of arrangement any longer. He has to be reminded that this agreement entered into by the parties in 1999 is so opaque and shrouded in controversy that it should have been reviewed and reformed, if not altogether terminated years ago considering the tortuous manner by which it has been and continues to be implemented on our side of the bargain.
The two sex cases involving US servicemen participating in exercises under the VFA are instructive. In 2005, five US servicemen gang raped a woman named “Nicole” and were arrested and detained by Philippine authorities.
Initially, US commanders insisted that the group be turned over to them to be tried under their military justice system. It took time and a lot of bickering not to mention veiled threats mostly coming from the US side before they were finally tried before our courts. By then, the issues have been clouded by a host of unrelated issues after US government representatives and their local allies tried their best to play down the incident, even going to the extent of demanding leniency and special treatment to the accused. So even as one serviceman was eventually convicted, he was deported back to the US where he served his sentence.
The case of Jennifer Laude who was murdered by another US serviceman years after was even more problematic. After all, it was a murder, and a sensational one at that. Again, the investigation and trial went through the same routine with US officials trying their best to shield the serviceman from even getting detained for a minute. All kinds of ruses were made to have the guilty party accountable only under US laws, rules and processes, our judicial system be damned. In the end, the serviceman went off the hook with nary a sentence and immediately flown back to the US.
These are just two of a host of other cases involving the implementation of such agreements which highlight the opaqueness and uneven implementation of our VFA.
Instead of clarifying the terms under which the US military is supposed to operate in the Philippines the existing VFA has been so worded as to ensure not just opaqueness but out-and-out transgression of our own laws, rules and processes. While the VFA is usually concerned with issues associated with the conduct of servicemen while participating in the annual VFA exercises, other concerns have been raised including the very propriety of having such an agreement at all considering the constitutional ban on the presence of foreign troops in the country.
Finally, we have to tell Cuisia and his group that the President is well within his powers to seek the termination of this agreement which to be very clear about it should be treated as just an executive agreement not a treaty in the strict sense of the word. It was just our Senate which voted to have this, and only after very heavy pressure from US authorities and their local allies to have this go through the processes of approving a treaty. But this was never ratified by the American Senate and therefore not recognized as a treaty by the United States.
Like the President’s order to terminate our relations with the International Criminal Court and our accession to the Treaty of Rome which established that body, he can simply issue a letter saying so. Or, as Foreign Affairs Secretary TeddyBoy Locsin said, he can have his staff compose a letter and even he (Locsin) can simply be the one to send the missive to his counter part in the US. It is as simple as that. After which, the termination takes effect 180 days upon issuance of such advise unless otherwise officially set aside.
In any event, if the President for some reason decides to take his time, there is still the need to have the VFA reviewed after two decades of existence. As Senator Koko Pimentel, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opined, we do need to review this agreement given our colorful and tortured experience with its implementation over the years. It is always proper and healthy in any relationship to take a look at how the same has been over time.
Given the new realities of an ever-changing world, the President is duty bound to direct that review which, as Justice Secretary Meynard Guevara noted, has been ordered anyway long before the US government’s decision to cancel the visa of Senator Bato dela Rosa and President Trump’s signing of the US 2020 budget which included that unfair and highly objectionable insertion of the three US senators on Senator Leila de Lima’s detention.