"Not much to do but hope for the best."
“What now my love, now that it’s over?”—so goes the refrain of an old song.
It is a good question to ask since the administration went ahead and sent the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States in spite of pleas not to do so from various sources, including from some administration allies who wanted a review instead of outright termination. They were unable to prevent the wishes of the President.
The VFA basically operationalizes the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that we have with the US. The notice of termination, if it becomes final, virtually renders both the MDT and the EDCA useless no matter how the administration tries to explain that the two agreements are not affected. US military personnel who are here on a temporary rotational basis will now have to withdraw together with all their equipment.
The yearly military exercises—the Balikatan—will now also stop. Our military personnel, notably our Marines, will no longer be able to benefit from the valuable training that Balikatan affords like amphibious operations which the Americans are noted for.
Another thing that will be lost is the assistance that we get from the US during natural calamities that visits the country quite often.
Still another casualty which may be the most important is the protective umbrella that the agreement provides against would-be intruders leaving us to fend for ourselves in case of military emergency. The US will also no longer build military facilities and depots where equipment we can use in times of emergency can be stored.
These are just some of the benefits of the VFA with all of its imperfections that will be gone with the abrupt VFA termination. The Senate, which approved and ratified the agreement, intends to go to the Supreme Court to question whether the President on his own can simply terminate an agreement that has been approved and ratified by the Senate. This appears to be the only avenue left for those against the abrogation but it is doubtful whether the Supreme Court will agree.
Is the termination of the VFA more consequential than when the bases agreement was terminated in the 1991? Recall that this required Subic and Clark to be vacated. Maybe not—because if the two huge military bases had not been vacated, Scarborough Shoal would still be just a shoal instead of an artificial island now controlled by China. The US 13th Air Force used the Shoal for aerial target practice and the fact that the mere presence of the two huge bases in the country provided the much-needed protection.
The strategic situation in our region has change radically since the 1990s. China has emerged from her long slumber and is now the second dominant power in the world. It has huge ambitions. While most countries in the Asia-Pacific region are strengthening their current alliances, we, on the other hand, have decided to chart a so-called independent foreign policy by terminating the VFA with our longest ally, the US, a country we supported and fought alongside with in two World Wars—the Korean and the Vietnam wars.
Why did the President abrogate the agreement in spite of the fact that by all accounts, the public prefer to have the Americans (more than anyone else) as friends? There is no simple answer to this complicated question. It may be tied to how the President views the world. It is no secret that right from the very start, he has shown his dislike for the United States. He is very sensitive to what he believes is the interference of US politicians in the domestic affairs of the country when they have little understanding of our situation. This lack of understanding and respect culminated in the withdrawal of the visa granted to Senator Bato dela Rosa, which probably triggered the termination.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said that the decision was not a spur-of-the-moment action but a deliberate process. This is probably closer to reality, because the President, on many past occasions, have actually been saying it.
Whether this will now be the beginning of a new relationship based on respect, as Panelo is saying, we will have to wait and see. What will probably happen is the same as when the Americans vacated Subic and Clark. We were left to our own devices for almost a decade until the VFA was crafted. It will not be the end of the world but there will be serious problems along the way, even if we try to look at the bright side of things as suggested by the AFP Chief of Staff General Felimon Santos Jr.
Even if the country is not as economically hard up as it was 20 years ago and in fact could afford some armaments, the country does not have all the money to buy all the defense materials that we need. Furthermore, no man—country, in this case—is an island when it comes to security issues. There will always be a need for alliances. Even the developed countries that can afford all the armaments that they need still have and see the need for allies.
We do not know yet how the government intends to go forward on this issue. From the way it has acted so far, it would seem that it is really determined to end the agreement. There is not much that we can do but wait and hope for the best for our country.