With the Philippine government issuing its notice of termination of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement to the US government, women’s rights group GABRIELA challenged President Rodrigo Duterte to make real the military agreement’s cancellation as an important assertion of Philippine sovereignty and not a mere political stunt to leverage concessions with the United States.
“While the 180-day countdown to the actual termination of the VFA unfolds, the remainder of 319 Balikatan joint military exercises with the US slated for this year should immediately be cancelled as proof of Duterte’s seriousness in terminating the VFA. Duterte cannot claim he is serious with the VFA’s termination but allow business as usual with the Balikatan exercises,” said Joms Salvador, Secretary General of GABRIELA.
GABRIELA called attention to the weeklong Bilateral Air Contingent Exchange – Philippines (BACE-P), an air defense interoperability exercise including intelligence, flight line and maintenance operations, that happened last week in Batangas and Pampanga just when Duterte was hinting at the termination of the VFA.
A series of joint “counterterrorism” exercises under the Balance Piston 20-1 is also currently happening in Palawan and Rizal until February 23.
According to GABRIELA, Duterte should make true its posturing that he will end the VFA, and that includes ordering the termination of all military exercises conducted by the US and its allied foreign powers including Japan and Australia on Philippine soil.
“Duterte should walk his talk on the VFA’s termination. There should be no compromise when it comes to Philippine sovereignty and our national interest,” Salvador added.
“Hands down, the VFA is lopsided to the core, as it accords US military and civillian personnel with preferential privileges at the expense of national sovereignty and protection of the Filipino people from abuses and human rights violations committed by US personnel on our own soil. Two decades of the VFA spawning thousands of military exercises, tens of thousands of US troops in and out of the country, and an unaccounted number of abuses by US soldiers provide more than enough reason to compel any Philippine president to see the VFA’s termination to fruition ,” said Salvador.
“Duterte should not make use of the VFA’s termination as some bargaining chip for the US to backtrack on its criticisms of Duterte and his henchmen’s gross human rights violations in the war on drugs and silencing of critics and curtailent of press freedom. The call to terminate the VFA, as well as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and the mother of all lopsided agreements, the Mutual Defense Treaty, which in sum provide the legal foundation for the continuing US politico-military intervention in the Philippines, is a just and urgent call. It is a call to assert that there will be no more Nicoles, no more Jennifer Laudes, no more Inangbayan violated and sacrificed in the name of maintaining relations with the US,” Salvador added.
GABRIELA vowed to continue pressing on the Duterte administration to make real the VFA’s termination and reshape a bilateral relationship with the US, or any foreign superpower for that matter, based on an independent foreign policy that ensures mutual respect and benefit for parties involved./Stacy Ang