WHY MANILA MATTERS
On March 12, 2019, I wrote:
The Philippines and the United States have a very special and unique long-term relationship.
Current President Rodrigo Duterte who is from Davao on the island of Mindanao has had a very different experience from previous Philippine presidents. Many Philippine leaders, both civilian and military, have studied in the United States. Pres. Duterte has indicated that members of his own family are Muslim and he has developed an adversarial relationship with the predominant Catholic Church in his nation. He has courted closer ties with both China and Russia. He has equivocated about the continuing role of the U.S. Military in the Philippines. We will not go into allegations of extra-judicial killings and persecution of journalists at this time.
This has been a review of Philippine-U.S. relations over the last 121 years as a resource in its own right. But we have also laid the foundation for a future, deeper look at what our bilateral future may portend.
We will soon apply these lessons from the past to a fuller and empathetic examination of a now sovereign nation in Southeast Asia.
We shall all benefit from the mutual respect inherent in reaffirming our relationship.
The majority of Filipinos who legally immigrate to the United States are loyal and patriotic citizens who contribute greatly to the quality of life here through their presence. For this, we owe them an everlasting debt of gratitude.
Five years ago, the Philippine government was in the process of building a major naval installation on the island of Palawan at Oyster Bay in the larger Ulugan Bay on the South China Sea in close proximity to the Spratly Islands where the current facedown between China and the United States is currently focused. But open sources went silent several years ago and it has not been possible to ascertain the status of this significant military project.
It appears to have ceased at least any public informational updates when President Duterte took office in 2016. If the base was ever actually developed, there is no confirmation that the United States has ever been permitted to utilize it.
“The Philippines–United States Visiting Forces Agreement, sometimes the PH–US Visiting Forces Agreement, is a bilateral visiting forces agreement between the Philippines and the United States consisting of two separate documents. The first of these documents is commonly referred to as ‘the VFA’ or ‘VFA-1’ and the second as ‘VFA-2’ or ‘the Counterpart Agreement’. A visiting forces agreement is a version of a status of forces agreement that only applies to troops temporarily in a country. The agreements came into force on May 27, 1999, upon ratification by the Senate of the Philippines. The United States government regards these documents to be executive agreements not requiring approval by the United States Senate.”
This agreement was implemented during the administration of Pres. Bill Clinton, just a few months after the completion of his impeachment trial in which he was found Not Guilty.
PRES. DUTERTE BEGINS PROCESS OF TERMINATING THE VFA
This is in retaliation for the United States banning Philippine government officials from traveling to this country for political reasons.
For background, see:
“Visibly upset, Duterte vented his anger over the U.S. decision to deny entry to Ronaldo dela Rosa, a former police chief who is now a senator.”
“Dela Rosa said the U.S. embassy in the Philippines did not explain why his visa had been canceled but that he believed it was most likely because of allegations of extrajudicial killings during his more than two-year term as police chief.”
“Dela Rosa was the chief enforcer of Duterte’s anti-narcotics crackdown, which has resulted in deaths of more than 5,000 people, mostly small-time drug dealers. Police say victims were shot by officers in self-defense.”
“If you do not do the correction, one, I will terminate the bases, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). I will finish that son of a bitch.”
“Duterte makes no secret of his disdain for the United States and what he considers its hypocrisy and interference, though he acknowledges that most Filipinos and his military have high regard for their country’s former colonial ruler.”
“Last month, Duterte banned U.S. senators Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy from visiting the Philippines after they introduced a provision in the U.S. Congress.”
“The provision calls [for] the ban on U.S. entry to anyone involved in locking up Philippine senator Leila de Lima, a former justice minister and Duterte’s top critic who was jailed in 2017 on drug charges after leading an investigation into thousands of deaths during the anti-narcotics campaign.”
“FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has instructed Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to ‘start the process’ of terminating the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.”
“Locsin, who heads the VFA panel for the government, also clarified on Twitter that he was leaving for Washington DC on totally VFA-unrelated matters but has called on Secretary Lorenzana, the vice chairman, to start the process of terminating the defense agreement between the Philippines and the US.”
“Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate national defense committee, said that the VFA between the Philippines and United States was a bilateral accord that went through diplomatic channels prior to ratification by the Philippine Senate.”
“Lacson said that in the absence of a Philippine Supreme Court ruling on the President’s power to unilaterally break a treaty or bilateral agreement like the VFA without the consent of 2/3 of the members of the Senate, the President may revoke the agreement even without the Senate’s approval.”
“If I cannot get a credible posture from the Americans, I can get it from the Russians and the Chinese government.”
“‘It’s because they respect the sovereignty of the country, which America is totally lacking. It’s not only the Philippines, but it’s all over the world they do not respect sovereignty,’ Duterte said.”
“I counter that, if you do this, then I will not allow the Americans to enter the Philippines without a visa. As of now they come and enter as if they own the place.”
WHAT BROUGHT FIL-AM RELATIONS TO THIS POINT?
We must employ both retrospect and introspect to fully answer that question.
In 2016, Americans decided upon a radical departure from the course that had been set by our former President Barack Obama. Whether you or I personally voted for him or not, our political process elected Donald Trump President and Commander in Chief.
Earlier that same year, our friends in the Philippines were sick and tired and fed up with rampant drug abuse and lawlessness. So they chose a very unorthodox politician who appeared to be the strong man they needed to right the course.
Only history well tell the complete ramifications of both these choices in our own country and in the Philippines. But one thing is certain, our two nations with 122 years of intertwined destiny both elected a leader like none before.
However, an American President is eligible to serve two 4-year terms if elected. But, a Philippine President may serve only one 6-year term and may not run again or be elected again.
OPTIONS FOR FILIPINOS IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY
Philippine Congress and Supreme Court can play their role under their constitutional balance of powers.
Pres. Duterte’s Civilian Cabinet and the Armed Forces of the Philippines with a more balanced understanding of the value of our Philippines – United States bilateral relationship may attempt to dissuade any rash action.
WAIT OUT THE REST OF PRES. DUTERTE’S TERM
Monday, May 9, Philippine presidential election, 2022
Term of the President shall begin at noon on the 30th day of June next following the day of the election and shall end at noon of the same date, six years thereafter.
Six years, non-renewable
887 more days.
~ OR ~
“At 7:15 pm on September 23, 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos announced that he had placed the entirety of the Philippines under martial law. This marked the beginning of a 14-year period of one-man rule which would effectively last until Marcos was exiled from the country on February 25, 1986.”
“The implementation of martial law began sometime before midnight on September 22, with the arrest of Benigno Aquino Jr. By dawn of the following day … many of the 400 individuals listed on the Military’s priority arrest list — journalists, members of the political opposition, constitutional convention delegates, outspoken lawyers, teachers, and students — had been detained.”
“Media outlets were shuttered, although those linked with Marcos crony Roberto Benedicto were allowed to reopen within the day. Soon after, CONGRESS WAS ABOLISHED [emphasis added], mass activities were prohibited, political parties were outlawed, a curfew was put in place, and civil and political rights were suspended.”
WHY I FEEL COMPELLED TO DOCUMENT THIS SITUATION AND RECOMMEND AMERICAN ACTIONS TO BE TAKEN
Nearly 50 years ago on April 4, 1970, I arrived at Clark Air Base, Philippines for the first of two assignments.
I was there when Pres. Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972.
I was here in Hawaii with U.S. Customs in 1986 when he fled here with his family and aides and I participated in the inventory of their belongings at Hickam AFB.
After his death in 1989, I oversaw the inventory at the U.S. Customs House in Honolulu of First Lady Imelda Marcos’ jewelry as it was divvied up under court order between the lawyers for her and those of the Philippine government of then Pres. Fidel Ramos in the early 1990’s. My role was to make sure nothing disappeared as the attorneys handled such items as an emerald and diamond necklace valued at $1.5 million.
During my U.S. Customs career as a uniformed officer, supervisor and analyst, I carefully followed developments in the Philippines and prepared intelligence assessments.
My personal life has been mostly with Filipinos for the last half century.
So this article is not something I take lightly as I deeply care about the future of the Philippines and Filipinos everywhere.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW IN THE PHILIPPINES
I respect the sovereignty of the Republika ng Pilipinas to determine their own destiny just as I did in a Political Science course in college in 1978 when I submitted a term paper entitled “The Genesis of a New Philippine Legacy: Self Determination”.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW IN AMERICA?
There is zero chance that Pres. Donald Trump will declare martial law a la Marcos and abolish Congress. ZERO!
But Rodrigo Duterte is an unknown quantity. I cannot predict which way the pendulum will swing with him. His unprecedented animosity for the United States as a Philippine President clouds whatever judgment he may possess.
Therefore, I would admonish both the Trump Administration and the U.S. Congress to realize that the rule of law which exists here in our own country is not to be taken for granted among even our best allies.
The Philippines has a unique long term relationship with and prevalent affinity for America and Americans. But we owe them our reciprocal respect to govern their own affairs.
If they make a mistake, they will need to take appropriate corrective action. If we make a mistake, the consequences are severe due to our role as a world superpower.
Jimmy Carter’s misguided criticisms of the late Shah of Iran led to his downfall and an exponentially worse regime wreaking havoc. Barack Obama and Hillary as Secretary of State undermined Mubarak in Egypt. George W. Bush overthrew despotic regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not one of those countries today is totally stable and conducive to personal liberties or freedom of faith and expression.
WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN?
American politicians of either major political party are not known for their teachable spirit or for heeding warnings that their policies are making things worse, no matter how theoretically admirable their intentions.
Senators Leahy and Durbin meddling and trying to impose Washington DC’s template on Manila is a serious miscalculation which portends driving the volatile and unpredictable Philippine President Duterte into the seductive arms (and teeth) of subtle and deceptive despots in Beijjng and Moscow.
Unlike past Philippine Presidents as well as both civilian and military leaders of the Filipino people, past and present, who have close educational, professional and personal ties to the United States of America, the man from Davao on Mindanao must be dealt with far differently as the Philippine nation determines their best path forward.
Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro “Teddy Boy” López Locsin Jr. has simultaneously announced the beginning of the process to unilaterally terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement under orders from Pres. Duterte and the Secretary’s own unrelated visit to the United States. It is fervently hoped he can convince Duterte to accept Trump’s standing invitation to come to the White House.
As the impeachment process in America reaches a peaceful, if not entirely orderly, conclusion with a verdict of Not Guilty, our American President will be poised to work for a diplomatic, cordial and mutually beneficial resolution to the VFA [which is crucial militarily to both countries].
An embarrassed U.S. Congress should have a newly found contrition to quit trying to dictate internal governance to our sovereign ally, the Republic of the Philippines.
Let us get our own House in order and reengage with our friends in Manila. We have everything to gain by replacing political maneuverings with a somber realization of our role as a world leader, engendering reciprocal respect among our allies and instilling in our enemies fear of our power and resolve.
Do you think we have that now? Neither does Rodrigo Duterte!