25th year of VFA: more countries involved, worsening regional tensions

By DOMINIC GUTOMAN
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – On the 25th anniversary of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the United States (US) and the Philippines, more countries have joined the military exercises in attempts at “containing China and maintaining US hegemony.”

From 2018 to 2024, research group Ibon Foundation has seen the most number of participating countries through the Balikatan Exercises. In this year’s Balikatan, 17 countries participated — a large number compared to the 2018 Balikatan which only involved four countries.

Infographics by Ibon Foundation

“The US’ military encirclement is one of its most heavy-handed ways to contain China’s expanding influence and to maintain its imperialist hegemony. The US is involving more and more countries to control more foreign armed forces, legitimize its military presence, and promote US arms sales,” Ibon Foundation said in a statement.

They also added that these military exercises are being portrayed as promoting stability and security, but in reality, they would only worsen regional tensions and increase the risk of conflict.

The US also has the most number of military bases than the rest of the world combined: 742 military bases in 82 countries and territories. This, for the Ibon Foundation, exceeds the reasonable defense needs. Russia has 52 military bases, while China has 29.

Given the rising tension in the West Philippine Sea, Ibon Foundation said that Filipinos need to be critical, not only of China but also of US involvement in the region.

Activists have been holding protests against the VFA, citing the unequal privileges between the US and the Philippines in the agreement. The VFA allows an unlimited number of US troops and does not specify the activities they may engage in.

“This has resulted in US troops participating in counterinsurgency operations in active war zones,” said progressive formation Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).

Bayan also added, “The VFA exempts US forces from passport and visa requirements. US vessels and aircraft are also exempted from paying landing or port fees, navigation or overflight charges, or tolls or other use charges, including light and harbor dues.”

The agreement was not ratified by the US Senate, unlike its ratification by the Philippine Senate in 1999. Bayan said that it is only passed through a “certification” by the US Embassy.

The VFA was also invoked following the murder of the Filipino transwoman Jennifer Laude in 2014. She was drowned to death by Joseph Scott Pemberton, a lance corporal in the US Marine Corps in Olongapo, Philippines.

Read: ‘Mockery of justice,’ groups on Duterte’s pardon to Pemberton

“The benefits from these agreements are grossly one-sided – in favor of the US imperialist agenda of becoming a Pacific power. There is no other just option but to scrap these agreements,” Bayan said.

At the cost of human rights violations, environmental destruction, and prostitution, the progressive group called on the Filipino people to reject US intervention.

“The VFA has taught us that Philippine sovereignty can only be upheld by Filipinos, not by any foreign government and that our national interests are not identical to US imperialist interests. There is no mutual benefit nor mutual interests between an imperialist superpower and its neo-colony,” Bayan ended. (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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