By LUISA SANDOVAL
MANILA — The Visiting Forces Agreement is in “full force again” as President Rodrigo Duterte recalled his earlier order to terminate the lopsided military pact between the Philippine and US government.
This decision was announced following the July 29 visit of US Defense Chief Lloyd Austin III to President Duterte.
“The VFA is in full force again. There is no letter of termination pending and we are back on track,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.
Duterte earlier ordered for the termination of the military pact, citing his “independent foreign policy” stance and when his close ally Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa, who led the anti-drug war campaign as former police chief, was denied a US visa.
“Where did his ‘anti-US’ and ‘independent foreign policy’ stance go? This is the same level as when he said he will take a jet ski to the West Philippine Sea and other populist promises of a comfortable life for every Filipino, ending of contractualization, and increasing salary of teachers,” said ACT- Teachers Partylist Rep. France Castro.
The VFA, a military pact that traces its roots to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, has been widely contested as it allows the return of US soldiers and be part of military operations here, six years after the Philippines successfully kicked out the US military bases.
Their return has since been marked by rights violations and sparked questions on the country’s sovereignty.
In a statement, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) called for the junking of the VFA, saying that Duterte’s “subservience to imperialist countries, especially the US, demonstrates his puppetry as long as he gains more powers.”
Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes, for his part, said he found it “not at all surprising that the VFA is back” as the president was “never really serious in terminating the agreement.”
“We ask now, what were the terms for the restoration of the VFA? What was discussed between Duterte and Austin? What was gained by Duterte in exchange for the retention of the VFA and what other concessions were made by the Philippine government to the detriment of Filipinos?” Reyes asked.
He also stressed that the VFA will not help the country in its fight to defend the West Philippine Sea, adding that the modernization under the “VFA and the MDT is a myth.”
To perpetuate himself beyond 2022?
In his statement, Reyes added that Duterte’s subservience to both US and China is a bid to “ensure his political survival beyond 2022.”
He said in Filipino, “There are others who prefer to be a US neocolony and military outpost than become a province of China. But why do we have to choose between two oppressors? Can we not aspire to be genuinely free? No country has ever truly developed by being subservient to imperialist powers.” (JJE, RVO)