Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Should President Aquino discuss scuttling the Visiting Forces Agreement with the USA?

Philippine and US Marines at one of the training exercises during the recently concluded 28th RP-US amphibious landing exercise (PHIBLEX).

ANOTHER successful joint Philippine-US military and community-service exercise ended on Friday lauded by government officials and most ordinary Filipinos but, as usual, reviled by left-of-center Filipinos.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is arriving in Manila on November 15.

Should President Benigno Aquino 3rd use the opportunity to scuttle the Visiting Forces Agreement—and please not only the National Democratic Front and the Philippine communists but also nationalist moderates calling for the abrogation of the VFA?

It has been officially announced that Secretary Clinton will be in Manila “to discuss a wide range of bilateral and multilateral issues with President Aquino.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario confirmed the news that the Philippines will be one her stops after the APEC Summit in Hawaii and the ASEAN Summit in Bali, Indonesia.

She was also here for two days in November 2009. She had a meeting with then President Gloria Arroyo. Her visit gained special meaning and boosted the long-standing sense of special Philippine-US friendship because it occasioned the delivery of American aid for victims of the devastation caused by Typhoon Ondoy and the unusually destructive floods that crippled Metro Manila.

But her arrival was met by protests, especially from militants campaigning for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement.

The anti-VFA voices became angrier after President Aquino’s trip to the US and meeting with President Barack Obama in 2010.

Before his departure, the leftwing partylist Bayan Muna filed a resolution in the House of Representatives calling on the President “to initiate the abrogation of the VFA and demand the immediate withdrawal of US troops in the Philippines” in his meeting with the US President September 20-26 2010.

In the House resolution filed by Bayan Muna Congressmen Teddy Casino and Neri Javier Colmenares, they claimed that “the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the presence of US troops in the country are significant focal points of RP-US relations after the Filipino people, through the Senate, rejected the renewal of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement on September 16, 1991. The VFA is a bilateral agreement which allows the entry of US troops, materiel and establishment of US military facilities throughout the country.”

They also claimed in the resolution that “19 years hence [after the Senate rejection of the RP-US military bases], US forces are back in the country not on a visiting status, but on a permanent basis.

The 11-year old VFA has paved the way for the permanent presence of US troops and establishment of facilities throughout the country through the agreement’s vague provisions on the number, duration and stay of troops” and that “since 2002, US troops have never left the country following the year-round joint military exercises coupled with humanitarian missions mostly in areas which are known strongholds of armed revolutionary organizations. Various reports have been documented throughout the years of US troops’ involvement in direct combat operations which are explicit violations of the VFA and the Constitution.”

Virtually the same words are used the Philippine National Democratic Front in calling for the abrogation of the VFA.

Government officials, however, especially those of the Defense Department and of Foreign Affairs have nothing against the VFA.

In last Friday’s PHILBEX closing ceremonies, Filipino and US officials — Undersecretary Edilberto Adan, director of the government’s VFA Commission, US Ambassador Harry Thomas and military officers of both countries — lauded the continuing operation of the VFA and the many exercises and activities being conducted under it.

They reiterated that this 28th RP-US Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX) 2012, in which 1,000 Filipino soldiers and more than 2,000 US servicemen participated, one more affirmed the years of firm friendship and mutually beneficial bilateral relationship of the Philippines and the USA.

PHIBLEX 2012 was formally opened last October 17 at the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) Headquarters in Fort Bonifacio.

As planned and expected this PHIBLEX course fortified the tactical skills of Filipino Marines but at the same time gave their American counterparts new experiences.

“Designed to improve interope-rability, operational readiness and maintain stability throughout the region, ” PHIBLEX allowed members of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to participate in training exercises that included live-fire maneuvers and amphibious operations.

The troops also engaged in several engineering and civil action projects like building classrooms and medical and dental outreach assistance to host communities in Palawan and Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija; Basa Air Base in Clark, Pampanga; the Marine Barracks Gregorio Lim in Ternate, Cavite; Crow Valley in Tarlac; the Naval Station San Miguel in San Antonio, Zambales aside from the forests and beaches in Palawan province.

The inclusion of Palawan as a military training ground triggered rumors that this 128th PHIBLEX was deliberately organized to show US and Philippine collaboration in the disputes over some of the Spratly islands, located in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), that are parts of Palawan province.

Both US and Philippine officials and military leaders disclaimed the 128th PHIBlez connection with the Spratlys conflicts.

US Brig. General Craig Timberlake immediately declared that over the years, with the US-Philippine VFA exercises being annual, some of the PHIBLEX had already been done in Palawan just as this one.

He said these maritime exercises are for the Philippines and US to develop closer partnership and for the improvement of the skills of soldiers of both cuntries.

The closing ceremony of the 28th RP-US AMPHIBIOUS LANDING EXERCISE (PHIBLEX) that officially ended on October 28, Friday, was attended by top military officials, government representatives and exercise participants.

It benefited thousands of Filipinos through the PHIBLEX’s humanitarian projects.
Marine Commandant, Major General Rustico O Guerrero AFP was the keynote speaker. He emphasized the mutual significance of the bilateral training.

United States Ambassador Harry Thomas and the Executive Director of the Visiting Forces
Agreement Commission Undersecretary Edilberto P. Adan were among those who attended the closing Ceremony.

From day one of the PHIBLEX, Philippine Exercise Director, Brigadier General Eugenio N Clemen AFP expressed his confidence that the bilateral training would enhance the Philippine Marine Corps’ effectiveness in its operations against internal and external security missions. He also noted that the humanitarian assistance projects would help the communities where the Philippine Marines are deployed. Manila Times

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