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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 72

Philippines scraps military pact – SOFA/VFA - with the U.S.

By Daya Gamage – Asian Tribune US National Correspondent
Washington, D.C. 13 February (Asiantribune.com):

The Philippines took a bold decision on Tuesday to completely withdraw or terminate from the military pact it has with the United States, the Visiting Forces Agreement – also known as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

The Government of The Philippines officially informed the Government of the United States that it was scrapping the military agreement which the U.S. Embassy in Manila promptly acknowledged the receipt of the notification.

The Asian Tribune inquiries found that the termination was a step taken by the country’s president Rodrigo Duterte, a move to worm up with China. The decision was in the midst of Washington’s enhanced military expansion in the Indo-Pacific region endeavoring to get “Willing Partners” to incorporate in a move to combat China.

In recent times, Washington was exploring to get literal states in South and East Asian region to sign military agreements such as Acquisition and Cross-Services Agreement (ACSA), Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) - otherwise known as SOFA - as a strategic move to strengthen its military presence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Toward this, Washington cemented its military bond with India at the last December 18 2+2 Defense Dialogue during official talks between foreign and defense ministers of both countries held in Washington, D.C.

Among the other literal countries in the region, Sri Lanka signed an expanded 83-page ACSA in August 2017. It still has the 1997-signed SOFA. The American Embassy Colombo has already forwarded a Diplomatic Note to the Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry last year giving renewed modalities of the VFA (or SOFA) for the latter’s approval to enter into a fresh military pact.

What The Philippines announced on Tuesday was its intention of withdrawing from the VFA which was a supportive instrument of the ACSA to which it had entered previously with the U.S. The VFA effectively brings in American boots to any country which has signed with the U.S.

The 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement exempts U.S. military personnel from passport and visa regulations when they come and go for joint exercises and training of troops in the Philippines.

The U.S., which provided some $550 million in military assistance to the Philippines from 2016 to 2019, conducts joint military exercises with Filipino troops. The U.S. also has kept as many as 100 Special Forces troops on the Philippine island of Mindanao on a rotating basis to help in Manila's fight against terrorist group Abu Sayyaf and other militants linked to the Islamic State.

U.S. troops were on the ground in 2017 aiding the Philippine military during a siege of militants in the southern city of Marawi. The U.S. Navy is also seen as a bulwark against China's territorial ambitions in the South China Sea. About a third of global shipping passes through its sea lanes, and the U.S. conducts Freedom of Navigation Operations in those waters in a bid to keep them open, to China's displeasure.

It is on the pretext of maintaining ‘free and open Indo-Pacific region’ that Washington endeavors to get literal and other nations in the region to agree to military pacts such as ACSA and VFA. Washington has already officially declared that Sri Lanka is located in a geostrategic position in the center of the Indo-Pacific region.

With the Philippines' formal notice signed, the termination will take place 180 days or 6 months after the US received written notification. In the meantime, Article IX of the agreement, states the VFA remains in force until the end of the time period.

Specifically, the provision on Duration and Termination reads: "This agreement shall remain in force until the expiration of 180 days from the date on which either party gives the other party notice in writing that it desires to terminate the agreement."

For Washington, while alliance management has never been an easy affair, this would constitute the biggest blow to any of its treaty alliance relationships in Asia since the end of the Cold War, at precisely the time when the United States is trying to refocus itself on geopolitical competition with major powers, principally China and Russia in the Indo-Pacific region stretching from East Africa to the East of Asia.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a Tuesday press briefing “As long as it is favorable to us and there is a mutual benefit to both countries, we are open”.

“But the president—again, I will repeat, he said it’s about time we rely on ourselves. We will strengthen our own defenses and not rely on any other country.”

“But as the president said, it’s about time we rely on our own resources. We have to strengthen our own capability as a country relative to the defense of our land.”

The U.S. Embassy in Manila, in response to the termination announcement of VFA, in a statement said: (Quote) The Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines’ intent to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). This is a serious step with significant implications for U.S.- Philippines Alliance. We will carefully how best to move forward to advance our shared interests. Our two countries enjoy a worm relationship, deeply rooted in history. We remain committed to the friendship between our two nations (End Quote)

The move to end the pact follows anger over Washington's reported decision last month to cancel the U.S. visa of Philippine Sen. Ronald dela Rosa. The former chief of National Police, dela Rosa, enforced Duterte's brutal war on drugs, which has killed thousands and has been widely condemned by international human rights watchdogs.

The U.S. makes its own decision to give or not to give entry visas to military personnel in other countries which it presumes have committed human rights violations or war crimes. Sri Lanka was one such country that was singled out.

- Asian Tribune –

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has warmed up to China while
distancing himself from the United States
An American soldier with Philippine counterparts during an exercise in 2015
diconary view
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