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On 12 February 2020, the government of the Philippines issued a notice to the United States embassy to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement, or VFA. Under the agreement, the two countries can negotiate issues within 180 days. The agreement is important to the U.S.-Philippine military alliance, so the development has attracted great attention around the world.

The military alliance was founded mainly on three legal documents: the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, the 1998 VFA and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. The VFA is a key foundation for maintaining the U.S. military presence in the Philippines. Terminating the agreement will directly impact the legitimacy of the that presence and will inevitably have a significant practical impact on the alliance.

The VFA is a basic treaty that clarifies the status of the U.S. military in the Philippines. It lays out the conditions, scope and convenience for the temporary entry of U.S. military personnel and equipment into the country. The most important aspect of the agreement is that it explicitly provides that the U.S. government has extraterritorial jurisdiction in cases of crimes committed in the Philippines by American military personnel. It is a basic legal guarantee designed to protect the rights and interests of the United States military.

the VFA clarifies the way the U.S. handles its military presence. The Constitution of the Philippines prohibits foreign troops from establishing military bases in Philippine territory, so the VFA actually makes it possible for the U.S. military to establish a presence in rotation based on the Mutual Defense Treaty and the pretext of hundreds of military exercises each year. The termination of the agreement by the Philippine government will actually render the MDT and the EDCA useless.

What triggered the dispute was the U.S. revocation of former national police chief Ronald de la Rosa's visa on the grounds of his violations of human rights in anti-drug operations. Duterte then retaliated with the termination of the VFA to counter the interference by the U.S. in the internal affairs of the Philippines. The Philippine parliament had some objections to the president's decision to scrap the treaty, but as reported in the Philippine media the official opinion of government aligned with Duterte.

When U.S. President Donald Trump said dismissively, If they would like to do that, that's fine. We'll save a lot of money, Duterte shot back with rhetoric of his own. Terminating the VFA is a move in the right direction that should have been done a long time ago, he said. We must stand on our own and put a stop to being a parasite on another country in protecting our independence and sovereignty.It should be noted that the Philippines' defense strength is weak, and the country relies heavily on U.S. military aid, including funding and training. If the agreement is ultimately abolished, how to fill the gap in the defense needs of the Philippinwes will be a major practical issue facing the Duterte government.

The United States and the Philippines agreed March 18, 2016 on five locations that American military forces can have access to under a 10-year security deal that comes amid rising tensions with China over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The two countries had been discussing where in the Philippines the U.S. forces could operate under the so-called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). Under the deal struck in Washington, the five agreed-to locations are Antonio Bautista Air Base, Basa Air Base, Fort Magsaysay, Lumbia Air Base and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base.

US President Barack Obama concluded his weeklong visit to Asia with the signing of a landmark defense agreement with the Philippines on April 28, 2014 that will allow US troops access to Philippine bases. The US had bases in the Philippines for almost 100 years until domestic opposition forced the last of them to close in 1992. As the Philippines looked to boost its military at a time of increasing tensions with China over territorial disputes, by mid-2013 authorities were laying the groundwork for a military base-sharing arrangement with the United States.

Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Cuisia said officials were combing through already existing security agreements between Manila and Washington to have a better idea of how a base sharing partnership would work. In particular, Cuisia said they are studying the Visiting Forces Agreement, which, since 2002, has allowed a contingent of about 500 American troops to rotate in and out of the restive area in Mindanao where the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf Group operates. The plan would see more U.S. troops coming and going and American military hardware ready for use at such bases. Some of the equipment is expected to come from U.S. military hardware being withdrawn from Afghanistan as well as some equipment from Iraq.

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, or EDCA, opens the door for American forces to rotate through existing Filipino military bases. That includes facilities at Oyster Bay, which is located within Palawans Ulugan Bay base. Oyster Bay is located 160 kilometers from the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea. Manila says the Chinese military is building outposts on Filipino reefs in these waters and harasses its naval forces. The presently undeveloped Oyster Bay base is a promising site for American and Filipino forces to work together as outlined in the new defense pact.

Philippine officials said in August 2013 that the nation is seeking fresh talks with the United States on expanding U.S. access to its military bases, as tensions with China rise over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. In a joint letter to Philippine lawmakers, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the talks will focus on "a possible framework agreement" for "an increased [U.S.] rotational presence." US officials said a framework agreement would increase opportunities for joint military training and exercises that could include other regional partners. Manila's push to bolster its defenses came as China presses maritime claims to most of the mineral and energy-rich South China Sea. For their part, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei are seeking to defend their sea borders against what those governments see as Chinese naval and fishing intrusions.

After the destruction of the Spanish fleet in 1898, Admiral Dewey seized the Cavite Arsenal, and thereby gained a repair and refueling base that was necessary for maintaining his squadron under wartime conditions thousands of miles from home. The Treaty of Paris, signed on 10 December 1898 made it official, and the US acquired the Philippines, along with Guam and Puerto Rico from Spain along with $20 million. The Tydings-McDuffie Act (officially known as the Philippine Independence Act) was approved by the US Senate on March 24, 1934, setting Independence for the Philippines for 10 years later, by 1944.

Within hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces attacked US bases in the Philippines, destroying most of the aircraft while they were still on the ground. Almost as soon as General Douglas MacArthur assumed command of the Southwest Pacific Area, after being ordered by President Roosevelt to leave the Philippines, he began planning his move back to the Philippines. Early in 1944, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) directed Allied forces in the Pacific to begin an offensive towards the Philippine Islands. The recapture of these islands would be a major step in the defeat of Japan. Operating from bases in the Philippines, the Allies could cut Japanese lines of communication to the rich, conquered territories of Netherlands East Indies, French Indochina, Thailand, Burma and Malaya. These losses would also support further advances against Formosa, the China coast and Japan itself.

The cornerstone of US foreign policy in the Southeast Asian region, forward deployment of US military forces in the Philippines was viewed by the US as essential if the peace and stability of the region is to be maintained. However, in the Philippines, the continued presence of the bases, with approximately 17,000 American military personnel, was viewed as a remnant of colonialism and had been a catalyst for increased insurrection and internal instability. Questions of sovereignty and nationalism elevated the base issue to a level that polarized the nation and made the prospect of continued US presence in the Philippines questionable. The United States desired to retain the bases in the Philippines to meet national security requirements. Alternatively, retention of these bases seemed detrimental to the continued democratic growth of the Philippines.

The US military presence in the Philippines was based on provisions of the Treaty of General Relations that was signed in 1946. This document is primarily remembered as the instrument that established the Republic of the Philippines as an independent nation but it also guaranteed US access to military bases. Pursuant to the 1947 Military Bases Agreement, the United States maintained and operated major facilities at Clark Air Base, Subic Bay Naval complex, and several small subsidiary installations in the Philippines. The MBA specified that basing rights were rent free and extended for a period of 99 years. The US commander was given complete jurisdiction over not only U.S. personnel, but also Filipinos who were employed on the base. In 1959, the Bohlen-Serrano Agreement amended the original MBA in response to growing Filipino criticism and demands. The time frame of the MBA was dramatically reduced from a 99 year period to an expiration in 1991. The jurisdiction issue was changed in 1966 to more closely parallel the status-of-forces agreement that was in place in NATO. The issue of compensation was also addressed for the first time in 1979 when the U.S. agreed to pay $500 million for a five year period. This was subsequently increased to $900 million in 1983 for the next five years of U.S. use.

In August 1991, negotiators from the two countries reached agreement on a draft treaty providing for use of Subic Bay Naval Base by U.S. forces for 10 years. The draft treaty did not include use of Clark Air Base, which had been so heavily damaged by the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo that the United States decided to abandon it.

On September 16, 1991, the Philippine Senate rejected the bases treaty, and despite further efforts to salvage the situation, the two sides could not reach agreement. As a result, the Philippine government informed the United States on December 6, 1991, that it would have one year to complete withdrawal. That withdrawal went smoothly and was completed ahead of schedule, with the last U.S. forces departing on November 24, 1992. On departure, the US government turned over assets worth more than $1.3 billion to the Philippines, including an airport and a ship-repair facility. Agencies formed by the Philippine government are now converting the former military bases for civilian commercial use, with Subic Bay serving as a flagship for that effort. Discussions continue on the nature of a status of forces agreement appropriate to the post-bases era.

After the closure of our bases in the Philippines in 1992, the United States benefited from a series of access agreements and other arrangements with Southeast Asian partners that supported continued US military engagement. These arrangements, including port calls, repair facilities, training ranges and logistics support, became increasingly important to US overseas presence. The post-US bases era has seen US-Philippine relations improve and broaden, focusing more prominently on economic and commercial ties while maintaining the importance of the security dimension. Philippine domestic political stability resulted in increased U.S. investment in the country, while a strong security relationship rests on the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty. In January 1998, the United States and the Philippines negotiated a Visiting Forces Agreement that permitted routine combined exercises and training, and ship visits.

The Philippines had long supported an increased US military presence to counterbalance China's growing military strength and increasing confrontations in disputed territory of the South China Sea. In January 2012 the Washington Post reported that the Obama administration and the Philippine government were in the early stages of negotiations on a deal that would follow other recent agreements with Australia and Singapore, which were seen as strategic moves aimed at China. Among the options under consideration are operating Navy ships from the Philippines, deploying troops on a rotational basis and staging more frequent joint exercises. Under each of the scenarios, U.S. forces would effectively serve as guests at existing foreign bases.

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Page last modified: 05-03-2020 18:22:09 ZULU