When President Duterte told United States President Donald Trump the Philippines wanted to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the US president readily agreed, saying it would save the US millions of dollars that it now spends for the joint training exercises.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper had earlier called termination of VFA “a step in the wrong direction” but the president himself welcomed it. He obviously sees no further need for such an agreement which came into being at the height of the “cold war” after the end of World War II.
Soon after the start of his administration, President Trump began calling on his North Atlantic Treayy Organization (NATO) allies to have a bigger share of the expenses in maintaining the alliance. He also saw the new Russia, after the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991, as posing less of a threat than before.
In Asia, the US also saw less need for the military alliances of the past, with Japan, the former World War II enemy, now a major ally. After the Pinatubo eruption and the Philippine Senate vote in 1992 against extending the old PH-US bases agreement, the US quickly adjusted to the situation of disengagement and left its bases here. President Trump carried on this development when he agreed, very quickly, when President Duterte told him it was time to end the VFA.
President Duterte’s decision to end the VFA may be deplored by many used to the close PH-US relations, but Jose Maria Sison, founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), welcomed it. In an online interview, Sison who is now living in Utrecht, Netherlands, said Duterte may yet be the greatest president of the country ever, with this assertion of national sovereignty along with the reforms the CPP has sought in its talks with the administration.
There are many on both sides of the Pacific who deplore the ongoing weakening of the PH-US alliance with the coming termination of the VFA. But now that President Trump has declared he welcomed it, officials like US Defense Secretary Esper are expected to cease any further comments about steps in the wrong direction.
There are undoubtedly some Philippine officials who share this view that the two nations must continue to stand firmly together, but all in the administration have declared they will defer to President Duterte’s decision. We should thus see the Visiting Forces Agreement come to an end after 180 days as provided for in the agreement.