by Vic V. Vizcocho, Jr.
Subic Bay Freeport — The suspension of the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States has raised hopes on the return of US Military presence in this former US Naval Base.
“From an SBF (Subic Bay Freeport) point of view especially post Covid-19, this is welcome because it means we can continue to be a staging point for Balikatan Exercise, host US and allied ships which will bring much needed income,” Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma told Subic Bay News.
According to a US Embassy statement today (June 2), the Government of the Philippines on Monday, June 1 “notified the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines of its decision to suspend termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement.”
“The United States welcomes the Philippine government’s decision,” the US Embassy said, “our long-standing alliance has benefited both countries, and we look forward to continued close security and defense cooperation with the Philippines.”
On orders of President Rodrigo R. Duterte, the Philippines officially notified the United States on February 11 this year that it would be terminating the VFA, which would have been effective 180 days later, or on August 9, 2020.
The March 27, 1999 VFA that allows temporary visits of US troops in the country, mainly for joint military exercises, is anchored on the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951, under which both countries have an obligation to support each other in case of an armed attack.
Duterte’s decision to terminate the VFA was widely seen as a knee-jerk reaction on the cancellation of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa’s US Visa as part of a crackdown on Human Rights violators by the US government. Dela Rosa led Duterte’s bloody “war on drugs” during his stint as the country’s top policeman, and was party to the incarceration of Sen. Leila de Lima on what is believed to be trumped-up drug charges.
Reminiscent of the stay of the US Military in Subic as a US Naval Base beginning in 1899, the largest outside the US Mainland, shutdown in 1992 by the rejection of the Philippine senate of the extension of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement (MBA) then set to expire, the Subic Bay Freeport, as well as the outlying communities benefit from the VFA in various ways, including ships services, bunkering, supplies, and personnel spending, pumping millions of pesos into the local economy.
US Servicemen also conduct community outreach activities during visits, which include medical and dental projects, school painting and repairs, among others, one reason why the locals here are understandably pre-dominantly “pro-US.”
According to SBMA Chaiman Eisma, “I grew up in Olongapo at a time when the US base was still here and I experienced first hand the impact of such activities to the community.” (VVV)