By Herman Tiu Laurel

Hitting two birds with one ‘Bato’

February 18, 2020, 12:57 pm

TRUMP’S obsession seeks to fulfill his promise to “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) within the two presidential terms he is hoping to attain. To succeed, he has to: reduce drastically his country’s gargantuan trade deficit h not just with China but with the rest of the World; cut down US government’s budget deficit that is now at $21-trillion; and 3) shrink the humongous US military budget.

Thus, it should have been no surprise when, instead of a lament Trump heaved a sigh of relief to Duterte’s termination of the RP-US VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) and said, “Fine...It will save a lot of money.”

Duterte’s “Bato” against Goliath

Against broad adverse reaction from the Philippines’ political and media hierarchy, traditional business elite and the intelligentsia, Duterte wielded his “David’s slingshot”, hurling the “Bato” visa issue at the US-R.P. VFAright between the eyes.

With one “Bato”, he has begun to bring down the Goliath of U.S. military presence in the Philippines and likely, throughout Asia in the coming years. Okinawa is intent on removing its US bases, while South Korea is disgusted with Trump's demands for more money for US troops.

Duterte also brought down the Amboy hierarchy in the Philippines, many of whom thought they could do a last-minute full-court press to change President Duterte’s mind, including Lacson, Cuisia and, ironically, Babes Romualdez Philippine ambassador to Washington among many others.

Duterte’s deep historical memory and vision

Duterte’s action reflects a deep memory of history, vision of the future, and profound passion for his personal responsibility as a leader to do justice and ensure the construction of a better future for his nation and for humanity.

Apart from his reminiscences of the Budj Dajo and Balangiga atrocities of the Americans, one of the defining aspects of Duterte’s persona as a Philippine leader is that he was deeply insulted when the US embassy whisked away a suspect, Michael Meiring in several Davao bombings and pushed investigating Davao Mayor to the side.

Duterte sees the folly of the senators pining to retain the VFA for US crumbs –surplus military equipment, Indian-giving disaster assistance, etcetera even as he appreciates other countries such the genuine “kindness” over the millennia of China’s trade and friendship that will carry on to the future and Russia’s resistance to US hegemony.

Helping Trump trump the US war faction 

US President Trump puts a priority on the US financial recovery over maintaining its status as the world’s sole superpower.  He has threatened to withdraw from NATO and US East Asian military bases if the EU, South Korea, and Japan don’t pay more, he has also tried to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Syria,

Today, the US maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries. Each of these 800 bases can cost, depending on the region and size, from $ 50-million for small camps to $ 200-million for major installations. The burden of sustaining this imperial network is indeed telling in the US.

While Trump thanked President Duterte for terminating the VFA, the US defense establishment is unhappy claiming its “a move in the wrong direction.” Thus, it has mobilized its Philippine gofers – among others, a fraudulent UP “military historian” Jose Custudio – to fan rumors that a military coup is in the offing (watch it on The One News TV show YouTube).

ASEAN Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality

On the 27th of November 1971, the Philippines signed – with Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand – the ASEAN Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality Declaration (ZOPFAN) whose primary goal is to “ensure stability and security from external interference in any form or manifestation...”

President Duterte’s termination of the VFA has brought the Philippines and ASEAN one step closer to achieving the ZOPFAN and its goal of “establishing a nuclear-free zone, for the purpose of promoting world peace and security by reducing the areas of international conflicts and tension.”

With the VFA out, it is foreseeable that the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) will soon follow to the exit door, and the ZOPFAN will finally be a reality in the region.

China for trade, not military alliances

As often cited, foreign wars are not in China’s cultural DNA; but trade and cooperation are. False narratives of China’s “invasion” of Vietnam in 1979 abound on the Internet, but these hide the fact that it was just “punishment” for Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia.

From the Defense360° article “Bad Idea: Permanbent Alliances by Benjamin H. Friedman, “... military alliances have become an end in themselves rather than a means to security... replaced George Washington’s fear that permanent alliances meant ‘infusing’ foreign enmities into US politics and needless participation in other states’ wars.” Vice versa for the Philippines.

Duterte has said, “No military alliance with China, Russia”. China, who shuns military alliances, agrees. As Zhou Bo of the PLA Academy of Military Science wrote in SCMP:

“States engage in military alliances to protect themselves against threats from other states. However, China doesn’t need alliances for survival. During the Cold War stand-off d between NATO and the Warsaw pact, China’s non-alliance and non-interference won it many friends, particularly from the Third World.”

Warmer world

While we still have to wait for Duterte’s final action on the MDT and EDCA, Palace spokesman Panelo has hinted, “...may also be scrapped, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has said the two remaining security pacts are now “practically useless”.

Despite the end of the VFA spokesman Panelo has said that relations with the US, “... remains warm, hopefully,... warmer...”, implying that President Duterte sees warmer ties after the VFA The signs are there as Trump expressed thanks to Duterte and Duterte said “Trump deserves to be reelected” for respecting the Philippines’ decision.

VFA abrogation brings a warmer geopolitical climate to the world as the Cold War 2.0 defrosts with the abatement of US military dominance neutralizing its plans for “deployment of 60% of its military forces to Asia”,  earlier threatened by the Obama administration.

Specious senators

Senators Sotto, Poe, Recto and Drilon are moving to question President Duterte’s termination of the VFA, contending that this requires senate concurrence. But Trump’s thanks to Duterte is a clear signal for the US military to proceed with disengagement. Even Sen. Lacson believes that US troops pullout will start within the first 90 days of the 180-day countdown of the termination.

There is nothing that the Senate can do to alter the situation, as explained to me by retired Ambassador Albert Encomienda - the agreement already in its in terminal phase: (1) “from the date on which either party gives the other party notice in writing...”; ( 2) any Supreme Court case will take more than six months or even years; (3) if petition is favored, a constitutional amendment would still be required..

Reviewing US jurisprudence offers “no ruling on whether the President has the power to break a treaty without the approval of Congress. The courts also declined to interfere when President George W Bush unilaterally withdrew the US from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty” and, more recently, when Trump withdrew from the Iran JCPOA pact.

So, it’s over and done with. A new era begins. Mabuhay ang Kasarinlan ng Republika ng Pilipinas



About the Columnist

Image of Herman Tiu Laurel

Herman Tiu Laurel is a veteran journalist and founder of think tank PHILIPPINE-BRICS Strategic Studies.