Vague Friendly Arrangement
By Erick San Juan
The good US Ambassador, Mr. Harry Thomas, made a pronouncement last week about the presence of the US military troops in Mindanao (Manila Times, July 10,2010). Since the day he made that premature visit to the residence of PNoy (President Benigno Aquino III), Washington is telling us to “fulfill the treaty” and he was referring to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). The VFA was ratified in 1999 by the Philippine Senate and signed by then President Joseph Estrada, but it was never ratified by the US Senate.
The American diplomat emphasized that the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) do not engage in combat operations and “are merely there to provide and offer information, training and medical support to the Philippine Armed Forces who are at the frontline (of counter terrorism efforts).”
But what is JSOTF-P? The JSOTF-P was established by the US Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC). It began it's work when SOCPAC deployed to the Philippines Joint Task Force (JTF) 510 with the task “to support Operation Enduring Freedom.” Operation Enduring Freedom is the official name given to the US government’s military response to the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City . It entails a series of anti-“terrorism” activities in Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Horn of Africa, Trans-Sahara, and Pakinsi Gorge. (GlobalSecurity.org)
It is very clear that the so-called “temporary visits” of the US troops here are justified because of the threat from a possible terrorists’ attack. Could this be the only reason? If so, they have been in the south for almost a decade and the secessionists and bandits are still doing their routine of kidnapping, killing, stealing, and so on and so forth. Meaning, they are not effective and like what Sen. Miriam Santiago said, the VFA should be abrogated and review the “lopsided” provisions that are not beneficial to the Filipinos.
Let us remember what Dr. Francisco Nemenzo said – “In the particular case of the VFA, ambiguity is extremely dangerous for the Philippines. As I just pointed out, it can involve us in unnecessary conflicts with America 's potential enemies in the region. And it runs counter to our avowed foreign policy objective of developing good relations with our neighbors.”
Yes, the vagueness of the said agreement can lead us to a war, (especially with our neighbors) that is not of our own liking. If ever a review of the VFA will transpire, it should be transparent and provisions must be clarified as not to shortchanged us in the long run.
This is the fundamental issue: Are our interests identical with those of America ? Are America 's enemies necessarily our own? I believe that our national interests may be different and, at times, contrary to those of the US . Therefore, we must pursue an independent foreign policy. (A paper delivered to the National Defense College of the Philippines by Dr. Francisco Nemenzo on September 18, 1998)
This is a great task for our solons and that of the US leadership to make this friendship last in the midst where border wars and flashpoints seem inevitable. We can make things work as long as it is fair and just on both parties.
If President Noynoy Aquino will be successful in uniting the people, I dream of a better nation, an ideal democracy just like my friend,Dr. Florangel R. Braid wrote at the Manila Bulletin about Costa Rica. It needs a lot of political will, but achievable. As a nation-state member of the Non-Aligned Movement, this is a litmus test for P.Noy and to all of us. "Pag bagsak ni P.Noy,kasama tayo", whether we like it or not. "In unity there's strength", an old adage quote that everyone of us should remember everyday.