As the Senate probes on the abrogation of the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, Senator Richard J. Gordon stressed that the country’s foreign policy must not be dictated by whim or caprice but by the need of the armed forces.
Gordon pointed out, the country’s security is what “ultimately matters” and that the VFA exists because “we don’t have a military that can defend us.”
“Is it a national interest to abolish the VFA at this point in time? Hindi naman tayo nakikipag-agreement dahil gusto natin pero dahil kailangan natin. Kung hindi natin kailangan, huwag tayong makipag-agree. But we have to be on our own,” he said.
Gordon underscored the importance of the VFA and said he is against its removal because of the Philippine military’s unreadiness. He added, the military “will be all air and no force, and all coast and no guard” if the agreement will be abolished.
“The people must know that our military has been bereft, leaving us dependent on our relationships with other countries. Strengthen the military, enrich the country. We have to look at the interest of our nations,” he said.
Gordon also pointed out that more equipment from other countries could have been bought when the US military was still in the country, which could have strengthened the armed forces’ capabilities.
“If we were beefing up our military when the US military was there, then we would have been able to have a more interdependent foreign policy,” he said.
The VFA between the Philippines and the U.S. was established in 1999 upon ratification by the Senate of the Philippines. The agreement allows defense forces cooperation between the two nations and permits the U.S. military to participate in the training programs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Since the creation of the VFA, the US has been providing military support to the Philippines in countering threats such as terrorism, and assisting on the country’s internal security operations.
For her part, Senator Grace Poe has registered her strong adherence to the Senate’s constitutional mandate and power to review treaties being entered into by the government.
Poe made her position clear during the hearing on Thursday of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by Senator Aquilino “Koko”Pimentel III, to review the VFA between the Philippines and the United States.
“It is our Constitutional duty to uphold the principle of separation of powers especially checks and balances which gave rise to the need for Senate action on treaties. Hindi natin ito pribilehiyo lang. Tungkulin nating busisiin ang mga treaty na pinapasok at inaalisan ng Pilipinas,” Poe said.
Poe said the VFA should be assessed based on its own merit and beyond political noise.
“Sa loob ng mahigit dalawang dekada ng VFA, nakabuti ba sa atin ito?” Poe said.
“If we are to withdraw from any bilateral agreement, let it be with basis. If we are to concur in any executive action, let it be ultimately for the interest of the people,” Poe stressed.
On the other hand, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said, “VFA-exit could come later, not yet time to do a Pelosi and rip it up This is not the time to do a Pelosi and rip up the VFA.”
A VFA-exit could come later, in a manner that is not rushed, but planned and programmed, and not out of pique, Recto said.
“Certainly not this time when an intruder has built and continues to build what have become the bases of our insecurity right under our belly,” he said.
“If we abrogate the VFA, this sharp contrast will not escape our people’s attention: On how we could let the red carpet stay for someone who has taken our land while booting the one who has been on our side in protesting such occupation,” said Recto.
Recto said the VFA is far from a perfect agreement. It has kinks to the country’s disadvantage too many to count. But these flaws are compensated, in part, by the help the country gets from the United States in times of natural disasters, of which the Philippines is one of the world’s most prone.
“They have become first responders, dispatching entire carrier groups to our aid during the powerful typhoons of the past decade, like Frank, Milenyo, Yolanda. Because we are too poor to modernize our military, we have relied on Americans to become a de facto disaster response unit. And that is the inconvenient truth,” said Recto./Stacy Ang