The end of the VFA: Isang visa ka lang?
AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - February 17, 2020 - 12:00am

While the Supreme Court case questioning the constitutionality of the Philippine withdrawal from the Rome Statute is still pending resolution, the executive branch has given notice of its withdrawal from another treaty, the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States of America. Well, it seems that our president has a penchant for withdrawing on treaties lately. Remember that decision to withdraw from the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC)? It was a response to the move of the ICC Prosecutor in opening a preliminary examination against President Duterte because of alleged extrajudicial killings in the implementation of the government’s war on drugs.

Will this termination of the VFA prove beneficial to the Philippines? Will it not aggravate the security issues we are facing including alleged threat of terrorist attacks? Next to the seemingly getting stronger COVID-19 problem, with numbers of those infected increasing, the president’s announcement on the termination of the VFA was met with several views and reactions. Some are for it, some are not and question the validity of such action.

Some citizens are scared of what is going to happen to us now that we are on our own. Others do not completely understand what this means to us as a people. Will it affect our economy? Why is the president so adamant in his decision to terminate the VFA with the United States of America? Is it legal? Are the reasons valid and true?

In the ICC case filed by senators and other cause-oriented groups, it was argued that a withdrawal from a treaty by the president should be ineffective if done without the concurrence of the Senate. From a reading of the Constitution however, the concurrence of at least 2/3 of all members of the Senate appears to be a requirement for the validity and effectivity of a treaty, but not in cases of withdrawal or termination. It would be ideal for both to be governed by the concurrence rule but this may need an amendment of the Constitution or an extended interpretation by the Supreme Court.

As it is, the silence of the provision in this regard may suggest that the power to abrogate falls under the discretion of the President being the country’s representative on matters of foreign relations. Without the express need for Senate concurrence, the act of termination may only be subjected to judicial review if attended by grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.

If we therefore concede, for the sake of argument, that the Senate has no say in the withdrawal from a treaty, would the withdrawal from the Visiting Forces Agreement merit a judicial review? Some quarters claim that the timing and the apparent haste point to the cancellation of the US visa of Senator Bato Dela Rosa as the last straw in an accumulated list of presidential disgust due to perceived American interference in Philippine domestic affairs. Although the government insists that the withdrawal should have been done a long time ago because the VFA is one-sided or that we need to be self-sufficient and self-reliant in our security and defense requirements, it does not appear that a thorough review befitting a treaty as significant as the VFA was undertaken.

Is there no longer a need for our military personnel to be trained in the ways of modern warfare? Where can we now get the kind of military intelligence gathering technology, which was instrumental in locating Marwan? Is it to the best interest of the Filipino people to forego the American aid we used to receive in the form of money or military hardware? Shall we not miss the ready and immediate assistance of American soldiers in times of natural or man-made calamities?

If the Senate had its way, a review of the VFA would have brought light to these issues. I find it hard to believe that the withdrawal is necessary for us to become self-reliant. How could we talk of self-sufficiency when the modernization of our Armed Forces is still very far from half of the ideal primarily because of budgetary limitations? How could we lose the benefits of the VFA at a time when the threat of terror is admitted by the government to be real and a neighboring elephant is bullying our fishermen? Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia would stand their own ground against China, but even with the VFA, we have not been as assertive. What more without it?

We had problems with the VFA but a review and amendment may have been sufficient especially in this age of globalization when we cannot say that America needs us more than we need them. I am beginning to be convinced that it was indeed because of one cancelled US visa. Yet, any discourse on the propriety of the withdrawal would now appear to be moot and academic because the US President, who, perhaps, thinks like our president, did not mind at all and even instinctively noted the benefit of savings for his country.

With their advanced technology, the strategic presence of American troops in the Philippines may not be that important to President Trump. What if he terminates the Mutual Defense Treaty or even trade agreements with the Philippines? Shall we live with the alternative of partnering with Russia, with whom we share no common bond or history? Are we better off with the aggression of China in the West Philippines seas? Shall we allow China to snatch the gift of the Benham rise where they already gave Chinese names to the undersea features there?

With or without the virus, shall we not be alarmed by the number of Chinese nationals coming to the Philippines in the guise of working with Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators? I only hope they are not the first wave of occupiers. Self-determination must be the dream of all, but the way things are going, it appears that our government would rather gamble with China than with America. With this realization, a growing number of our population may be hoping for 2022 to come a little faster.

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