Scrapping VFA to boost PH's foreign policy, justice system

By Filane Mikee Cervantes

January 30, 2020, 4:08 pm

<p>Albay Rep. Joey Salceda</p>

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda

MANILA – Albay Rep. Joey Salceda on Thursday said the country’s withdrawal from the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) would bolster the country’s independent foreign policy and strengthen the justice system with a little economic and geopolitical cost.

In an aide-memoire addressed to Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Salceda said the provisions in the VFA are “not essential” for the purpose of guaranteeing the region’s safety from terrorism, considering that allies exchange intelligence and military support all the time under less onerous conditions.

The treaty allows US forces to enter the Philippines without a passport and visa restrictions, as well as exempts US personnel from Philippine jurisdiction, so long as the crimes they commit are not “of particular importance to the Philippines”.

“What motivates our irrational fear of total abandonment by the US is primarily sentimental. For decades, we have regarded the United States as a sentimental partner, even as it has set sovereignty-eroding conditions such as ‘parity rights,’ even for such basic gestures of friendship as reconstruction payments for the Second World War,” Salceda said.

He noted that the bilateral agreements--such as the Mutual Defense Treaty, Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, and the VFA—meant that the Philippines must side with the US in their wars, allow them to use the country’s bases, and still be unable to try their personnel for most crimes in the country.

“This is a toxic relationship. And while we have nothing against the American people, we cannot ignore the fact that their government has treated our country not as a partner but as an overseas possession, whose domestic policy falls within their sphere of influence,” Salceda said.

“This may have been acceptable to this government’s predecessors then. It can no longer be accepted by a country that has become aware of its own merits. We are among the fastest-growing economies in Asia, not to mention an investment destination that would almost certainly yield reasonable rates of return,” he added.

The economist-lawmaker said the trade and investment impact of scrapping the VFA will be close to nothing.

“We will not become less attractive an investment destination just because we are now for trying all crimes committed in our soil under our laws.,” he said, citing that the Philippines is named the third most attractive investment destination in the world in 2019 by CEOWORLD Magazine.

He argued that scrapping onerous and unfair geopolitical deals is a strong statement, as we open the country for good investment through policy reforms on foreign capital restrictions.

“We will treat all investors fairly, and we will not privilege one country over another should there be a commercial dispute between them,” he added.

Salceda said it is price and quality, not political disagreement, that determines a country’s decision to import Philippine goods.

He noted that macroeconomic fundamentals and the certainty of profit, not military treaties, that determine an investor’s decision to invest.

“Above this, our most valuable trading relationships are with Asia. In terms of export markets, exports to the city-economies of Singapore and Hong Kong combined now exceed our exports to the United States. Our Asian partners want to buy more from us while demanding less of us that the United States does,” he said.

On Jan. 23, President Rodrigo Duterte announced his plan to scrap the VFA between the Philippines and the US within one month, unless Washington fails to “correct” the cancellation of Senator Ronald dela Rosa’s US visa.

The President’s latest decision came following an amendment to the US 2020 budget, which authorizes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to bar Philippine government officials involved in Senator Leila de Lima’s “wrongful detention” from entering the US.

De Lima, who has been detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center at Camp Crame in Quezon City since February 2017, supposedly had a key role in the drug proliferation inside the national penitentiary during her stint as Justice secretary.

Apart from the amendment to the US budget, the American senators have also passed Senate Resolution 142, asking US President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on Philippine government officials allegedly behind de Lima’s detention. (PNA)