June 1, 2023

“First, I was afraid, I was petrified, just thinking I could never live without you by my side. But I spent so many nights thinking how you treat me wrong…and so I will survive.” This is part of the lyrics of the song “I will survive” as sung and popularized by Gloria Gaynor. What has this got to do with my piece this week? In the light of the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), perhaps we should start singing and start believing that we can survive this crisis.
Several political pundits are protesting the abrogation of the VFA, that it spells doom for us. Several senators claim that without it, our defense against external aggression is close to none. They justify their fear by giving as an example the current territorial dispute being waged in the West Philippine Sea. In the light of the intrusion made by China, it makes no sense to abrogate the only defense option that we have. Or is it really?
U.S. President Donald Trump does not care whether or not the VFA is abrogated. In fact, he welcomes it, saying that it saves his government more money. Although he does not have the same view as that of his defense secretary, it makes sense that he belittles the move of President Rody Duterte to scrap the agreement altogether. For when did America ever respect the Philippines and the Filipinos?
Yes, I concede that there were times when Uncle Sam came running to aid his brown brother, Juan, in times of need. Nevertheless, haven’t other countries did as well? The biggest benefactor of the Philippines, by the way, is Japan. Maybe, with the twist in foreign policy being promoted by Duterte, China will take over.
Others may argue about the real intentions of China. Yet, have they argued as well about the intentions of the United States? What has the latter brought us? Hippies, rap and rock music, Hollywood and Iron Man, the NBA and Kobe Bryant, and a lot of crap that beclouded our identity as a people and erased our culture as a nation. This is why we think more like Americans. This is why we are dependent on the Americans. This is why we have a natural attachment to the Americans that anything and everything American is better than anything else. This is why we cannot do away with the Americans. And, this is why we are afraid of the termination of the VFA.
One may ask about the intelligence network and the aid that is incidental to the existence of the VFA. How will we fight terrorism like the one in Marawi? How will we respond to disasters like the one that happened during the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda? The prospects are not that fearful.
With respect to the fight against terrorism, this is an international responsibility that is governed by an international treaty. I do not think the U.S., which has pledged itself to be the number one crusader against terrorism, will be that vengeful not to share its intelligence to a proven ally, with or without the VFA.
The fight against terrorism is based on shared responsibility and rewards. To cite an example, when international terrorist Marwan was seen in Mindanao, U.S. operatives shared the information about his exact location. They did this because Marwan was wanted by their own government. He had a $5-million reward on his head. Would they have denied access to this sensitive information if there was no VFA? I do not think so. They have an inherent interest in the fight against terrorism.
It is the same in cases of disaster. It is a natural response to help someone in need. The U.S. government sends tons of aid and lots of money in Africa notwithstanding that it has no treaty with the nations benefitted. It gives donations to countries like Columbia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and even to its nemesis, Russia, because it is the humanitarian thing to do. Besides, if America does not respond to our needs in times of crisis, there are others who are more than willing to share their place.
How frail could our memories be. It was barely 30 years ago when several of our senators voted to abrogate and terminate the bases agreement between the U.S. and the Philippines. It was an unpopular decision. Much like what is happening now, critics were saying that we are doomed to be invaded. That without the bases, we are helpless. Look what happened. The bases became thriving business zones and the senators who voted for its abolition were hailed as heroes. They were immortalized in the annals of our books as patriots. So, what’s the difference? Surely, we can see through the propaganda behind it.
VFA? The VFA, after all, is a mere adjunct to the Mutual Defense Treaty that remains to be in force and effect. The country should take it as it is. A mere agreement that has been so one-sided that in all likelihood, it works more for the advantage of the visitor rather than the host. In truth, it has created more problems and heartaches because it is rapt with abuses. Look at the several rape cases it has perpetuated.
It is time to wake up, to take a definite stand as a people and assert our independence. It is time to be our own man and defend ourselves from our own fears.
In his book, “From Third to First,” Lee Kwan Yu chronicled the progress of Singapore by revealing that his first step was to free his country of its dependence from the Malaysian military. His assertive stance compelled his people to gain their confidence and coerced them to stand up against their enemies. They became a proud people. Shouldn’t we be doing the same?