Stay focused on coronavirus, not VFA
TO THE QUICK - Jerry S. Tundag (The Freeman) - February 17, 2020 - 12:00am

Judging by its near-complete disappearance from the front pages, it would appear that the novel coronavirus has worn off its novelty, and thus its ability to sell the news. This is just like Simon Cowell telling Marcelito Pomoy that, to advance, he has got to take greater risks because the element of surprise is gone. I completely agree. I will not buy a Pomoy album and listen to him switch from girl to boy to girl endlessly over a dozen or so songs.

What has taken the place of the coronavirus in the front pages is VFA, or more precisely, the start of the termination process of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States. To be clear, only the process has been initiated by the Philippines. It will take 180 days for the actual termination to take place, unless both parties agree not to go on with the termination.

But just what is the VFA that it should be on everybody's lips? Unlike the coronavirus, which everybody at least understands to be life-threatening, not everybody knows, much less understands what the VFA is. Only a very small percent of Filipinos can grasp the meaning of VFA and how it can, if at all, affect the lives of people.

To those in the majority who do not know, do not worry. If the VFA is gone tomorrow, you will hardly miss anything. Life will go on in the Philippines just as you have always known it. Your fate and your fortune will not rise or fall with it. In the measure of significance to human life, the coronavirus far outweighs VFA, perhaps a thousand to one. It is disease that should worry us, not a lopsided military alliance in a world of shifting alliances.

If the VFA papers were to be crumpled and thrown into the wastebasket, here is what it essentially was. As foreign forces are constitutionally barred from the country, the VFA provided the bridge over the prohibition. The US needs to station its forces, no matter how briefly, and to conduct exercises, as part of its global strategy of forward projection.

America does not want to guard against the enemy when it is already knocking on its door. It starts guarding against the enemy right at the enemy's door. Unfortunately for the Philippines, it is right smack in the driveway leading to the doorsteps of Russia, China, and North Korea. Of course the US has bases in Japan and South Korea. But they are in the crosshairs of Russia, China and North Korea. So they cancel each other out.

The Philippines provides a different gambit for the Americans through the VFA. There may no longer be any US bases in the Philippines, but the VFA allows continual and unlimited presence. And the VFA allows continued US jurisdiction over its forces when they run afoul with the Philippine laws. No such worry for the US. We send no troops to the US. Our soldiers go in pairs, threes, foursomes. Usually as a token of reciprocity.

And our soldiers tiptoe while in the US. Well, not really tiptoe, but you know what I mean. And what did we get for allowing ourselves to be a platform for US forward projection? A couple of resurrected mothballed Coast Guard cutters and some small arms, ordnance, and other war materiel. Intelligence and espionage, especially versus terror? They are not doing it for us. They are doing it for them. Since 9/11, the US hasn't been the same.

jerrytundag@yahoo.com

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