"Lopsided agreements, all."
Maybe President Duterte is a maverick president when at the outset he pursued an independent foreign policy. The problem, however, is that up to now many of our leaders cannot comprehend that the country’s foreign policy is only centered on our national interest; that it cannot go beyond or less than that. As President, his decision to discontinue the VFA stands as the highest judgment that without the VFA is good for this nation.
In a sense, the decision of the President can be viewed as in pursuit of our quest for our independence. He gave justice the provision in our constitution that for a long time has been trampled on and mangled just to accommodate a foreign power that has been styling itself as the protector of our interest. The VFA stand as an executive agreement—this means that the US President alone can decide to avail himself of that agreement, but not as a treaty where both parties are mutually obligated.
Yes, the VFA and so with the prior and subsequent agreements we entered into were ratified as a treaty by our Senate. Moreover, many of the opposition members in the Senate appear ridiculous, saying that even if the US Senate refuses to ratify the agreement to make their obligation binding, citing previous agreements such as the military bases agreement signed on March 14, 1947 after the US Congress to release the badly needed reparations assistance to the battered Philippine economy and give back pay to our veterans who served their war during World War II with an added condition to allow the stay of their bases for 99 years; the mutual defense treaty signed on Aug. 30, 1951 to gave the US a beach head in Asia in the event of possible escalation of the Korean War involving China; and finally the military assistance agreement which came in a series of agreements to provide military assistance and training to our personnel in the Armed Forces.
When the US economy began to falter, its credibility in keeping those overseas bases was seriously affected. It was a dilemma for it exacted a heavy price on its budget. During the country’s renegotiation of those bases in the 70s, the US refused to pay the rent fearing it might serve as precedent from other countries to demand payment. The US stood pat on that until a compromise was reached, that in lieu it offered economic and/or military assistance. That agreement was, however, conditioned on the mode of the US Congress to appropriate such assurance given on a regular basis.
As the US economy began to feel the pinch in the cost of maintaining them, it openly decided to demand payment or subsidy from countries economically well off and from those it defeated during the war. The US for the first time admitted that the defense for their security is not for free, which means that the stay of the bases, countries will have to pay or contribute the cost of the burden. Others question this, insisting that the bases are more for the interest of the US. The demand for payment has lost its credibility after the end of the Cold War and technically put an end to the arms race between the US and the USSR.
Countries such as Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Sweden and Japan were required to contribute for the maintenance of the US bases. NATO could not be compelled but the US devised a way to force them to contribute like pegging their contribution to 3 percent of their GDP to the alliance. It may not be a direct payment, but it represents a substantial amount in terms of purchases of weapons and equipment from US arms suppliers and manufacturers. This explains why NATO has lately been drifting away from the tightening hegemony of the US like Turkey.
In our renegotiation of the bases agreement, Marcos did not only to reduce the term form 99 years to 25 years, the number of bases from 23 to 2, but put an expiry date for their stay. The Marcos government also renegotiated the issue of labor for our workers in the US bases, tax for goods imported by US servicemen and dependents, and the insistence that the base should be under a Filipino commander with our flag to be raised inside them. However, the demand to secure jurisdiction over criminal cases committed by US servicemen failed but instead promised to provide substantial increase in financial assistance.
In 2000, the US managed to ram on our throats the return of their bases which ended in 1991 as per agreement in the Marcos-Johnson Communiqué in September 1966 and incorporated in Section 25 Article XVIII of the 1987 Constitution. It provided that no foreign military bases shall be allowed in the Philippines except for that contradictory, illogical and stupid proviso stating that the military bases is prohibited except when duly concurred by the Senate.
From mere “visiting” force, our leaders sought to upgrade the VFA to make permanent their return by renaming it as “Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement” (EDCA). The VFA was used as the foundation to violate further the Constitution. After all our “brilliant” Senators might have surmised they already violated the constitution, and a second violation could only be treated as trivial it being moot and academic.
So on April 28, 2014, the Philippines officially allowed the return of the US bases with a vengeance. From the remaining two military bases, at Clark and Subic, the lamentable Aquino government gave them five facilities namely: Antonio Bautista Air Base (Palawan), Basa Air Base (Pampanga), Fort Magsaysay (Nueva Ecija), Lumbia Airport (Cagayan de Oro), Benito Ebuen Air Base (Mactan, Cebu). Unlike the earlier agreements, EDCA mainly relied on the use of our facilities and structure built for our soldiers. In that the visitor has become our permanent boarder, free board and lodging for the fact that they do not pay any rent, and for their consumption in water and electricity on top of the usual privilege of exterritoriality granted to their servicemen.
As said, the VFA and EDCA were lopsided agreements. First, while we claim the agreements as a treaty, the US never treated those agreements as such but only an executive agreements. This means that only the President needs to sign it to make it binding. The agreement now becomes a mere policy of the US government.
Second, even if an act by a third party would seriously imperil the security of the Philippines, and executive agreement cannot invoke if the US decides not to come to our assistance.
Third, it is not similar to NATO and the US alliance with other countries. As a treaty with a clear cut commitment, the US Senate is required to ratify it just as our Senate is required to ratify it.
Fourth, if the US decides against ratifying it, it is equally not obligatory for the US to come to our assistance even if there need for them to provide military assistance.
Fifth, an executive agreement like the VFA and EDCA are dysfunctional treaties, much that it can only be invoked by one who has the power to enforce it, not in the concept of a mutually binding obligation, but a policy in pursuit of securing one’s interest.
It was this loophole that President Duterte took advantage to scrap the agreement. The US Senate refused to ratify it, and took advantage to abrogate the VFA without the concurrence of the Philippine Senate. It does not make sense if our Senate ratified VFA, for what is not obligatory to the other party is equally and automatically not obligatory to the other party. Our senators are rather acting ludicrously in wanting to review whether their consent is needed to scrap a dysfunctional agreement. We are not obligated to comply with an agreement not binding to the other party.
In fact, our senators miserably failed to analyze that when the US Senate decided in a Resolution to attached conditions to our officials for the issuance of US visa, that decision became political which is now binding even to President Trump. It became one of political decision because it is based on the Senate’s assessment of the human rights violation allegedly committed by our official. That in turn compelled President Duterte to act politically to scrap the VFA without the consent and approval of those quislings in the Senate for reason that the US cannot compel the US Senate to rescind their decision just to accommodate Senator Dela Rosa.