Termination of VFA with US to pave way for better military deal: analyst

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 12 2020 10:45 AM | Updated as of Feb 12 2020 11:19 AM

Philippine and US marines simulate an amphibious landing as part of the annual joint military exercise in San Antonio, Zambales on May 9, 2018. Ted Aljibe, AFP

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte's termination of the country's Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US will lead to a negotiation for a "more advantageous" deal, a security analyst said Wednesday.

The Philippines on Tuesday formally sent the notice of termination to the US Embassy in Manila.

Manila needs Washington to "deter other countries from taking advantage" of it but it also needs a better military pact, according to Rommel Banlaoi, president of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

"Magbubukas ito ng pagkakataon sa atin para makapag-negotiate ng another agreement na sa tingin natin ay mas magiging advantageous sa atin," he told radio DZMM.

(It will give us an opportunity to negotiate another agreement that will be more advantageous to us.)

"Hindi nangangaluhugan ay tinatalikuran na natin 'yung magandang relasyon natin sa America. Hinihingi natin ngayon ay magkaroon ng magandang arrangement with America para maging advantageous sa ating interest."

(This doesn't mean we're putting behind our good relationship with America. We're just asking for a good deal with America that's advantageous to our interest.)

The Philippines' could use its geography as leverage against the United States, Banlaoi said.

"Bago sila makapasok sa Guam, Hawaii, mainland US, dadaan muna sila sa Pilipinas. Tayo ang natural barrier nila, napakaganda ng ating location," he said.

(Before they can enter Guam, Hawaii, mainland US, they have to go through the Philippines first. We are their natural barrier, we have a very good location.)

"We have to use that strategic location to come out with better terms with the United States."

Although the VFA, which covers the conduct of American soldiers in the Philippines, provides benefits such as humanitarian assistance and disaster response, counter-terrorism training, maritime domain awareness, it also had "disadvantageous" provisions, Banlaoi said.

Among these are ambiguous provisions on the custody of American personnel who commit crimes in the country, and the unequal treatment of Filipino military visiting the US.

"Under VFA, maraming privileges ang American personnel to enter Philippine territory. Visa-free sila, pwede nilang ipasok ang kanilang military equipment na duty-free. Kontrolado ng US ang personnel nila," he said.

(Under VFA, there are many privileges for American personnel to enter Philippine territory. They're visa-free, they can transport their military equipment visa-free. The US controls their personnel.)

"Pag tayo ang pupunta sa America, we have to apply the regular visiting process, like kailangan tayo may passport, may visa."

(If we go to America, we have to apply the regular visiting process, we need to have a passport, visa.)

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Banlaoi added that the country's VFA did not deter China's militarization in the West Philippine Sea, citing Beijing's takeover of Scarborough Shoal.

"When it comes to actual threat di naman talaga guarantee 'yan. Di natin nakita 'yung tangible outcome. Wala tayong nakitang direct benefit," he said.

(When it comes to actual threat, it's not guaranteed. We did not see the tangible outcome. We did not see a direct beWala tayong nakitang direct benefit.)

"Lahat ng giyera ng Estados Unidos sumama ang Pilipinas dahil sa MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty). Pero sa giyera natin, wala pang pinasok ang America maliban lang sa Marawi siege. We also acknowledge the contribution of US in that aspect."

(The Philippines went to all of the US' wars because of the MDT. But in our wars, America had only been involved in the Marawi siege.)

Should the Philippines terminate ties with the US, Banlaoi said it could reach out to other countries such as China, Russia, or Japan, with whom it is currently negotiating a VFA.

"Ang mahalaga dito ay ma-diversify ang options natin, ma-lessen yung ating reliance and dependence on the US," he said.

(What's important here is we diversify our options and lessen our reliance and dependence on the US.)