VFA or MBA (Mutually Beneficial Agreement)?
By Erick San Juan
The review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) by the Presidential Commission on the VFA headed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. has started and with the commitment to have a “thorough review of the VFA so that refinements could be introduced to ensure that the country would get maximum benefits from the bilateral agreement.”
Someone might ask, why the Executive Secretary and not the Senate to do the said “review”? According to the Executive Secretary, the commission (Presidential Commission on the VFA) was created in 2000 under the Office of the President “to ensure that visiting US troops will respect Philippine laws, policies, public morals, customs and traditions.” But, did the commission did its best to attain that respect for our laws, policies, public morals, customs and traditions in the Subic rape case?
Then last Oct. 1, President Noynoy Aquino issued Executive Order No.9, which amended EO 67 released in January 2002. This EO 9 reorganized the Presidential Commission on VFA and named the Executive Secretary as chair of the commission with Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin as co-chairs. The other members of the commission are the secretaries of the Department of Justice and the Social Welfare and Development, the executive director of the commission, and a private sector representative to be appointed by the President.
With the reorganized commission in place, PNoy should be clear of what he meant by “refinements” to the agreement. As what Senator Francis Escudero the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice said that the term “visiting” must be clarified. “Where in the world can you find a visit that lasts for 365 days? That’s no longer called a visit. Either change the name or follow the definition of a ‘visit’,” he concluded.
Sen. Escudero is for renegotiation but the Senate should be involve in the review and for him, termination of the VFA could be the last option. He still thinks that the VFA is useful because of the $60 to $80 million in US annual military aid to our country.
Methinks that this must be changed and opt for that “maximum benefits” that the commission promised to achieve. Let us not settle for less, we have been shortchanged for a long time. If the agreement has to be mutually beneficial, our share of the benefits should be equally given or more.
Remember that our country is Uncle Sam’s lightning rod in this part of the globe, whether we like it or not. And the confluence of events clearly signifies that Uncle Sam needs us more than ever. So, why not demand what's due us that has been put off in the past by the previous leaders.
The moment is now to be a demanding ally and a long-time friend, the fact that Washington is very keen on the developments in the South China Sea particularly the claimants’ stand in relation to Beijing’s “core interest” in the region.
The Filipinos must stand united behind our leaders to get what must be given to us by Uncle Sam,to truly achieve a mutually beneficial treaty and not MAD (mutually assured destruction) in the process.
God bless the Philippines......