Duterte’s Withdrawal from US-Philippine Agreement a Mistake

The Philippine government has announced to its American counterpart that it is discarding the Visiting Forces Agreement, which determines the legal standing of American forces in the Philippines. These are the orders of President Rodrigo Duterte.

If the agreement lapses, it is possible that the alliance between America and the Philippines will weaken. Duterte may be known for his anti-American statements and actions, but this is still rash. We would like the decision to be reversed immediately.

China asserts its sovereignty, without a legal basis, over most of the South China Sea, the possession of which it disputes with the Philippines and others; it is proceeding with its militarization there. A strong Philippine-American alliance is essential to check maritime expansion; both countries frequently conduct joint military exercises to restrain China.

Cooperation and union among America and Japan, which support freedom of navigation and rule of law, and the coastal nations of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, among which is the Philippines, are important.

Japan’s navy cooperates in the joint Philippine-American exercises and provides support to the Philippines and Vietnam to upgrade their naval defense capabilities.

Duterte’s rash action might affect not just the Philippine-American alliance, but the whole cooperation against China around the South China Sea. Does he realize this?

The withdrawal announcement was spurred by America rejecting a visa for a senator close to Duterte. As the chief of police, he directed brutal operations to eradicate drug crime.

In Duterte’s anti-drug crime campaign, many suspects have been killed by police, and criticism, particularly from Western countries, for violating human rights has been strong.

The problem is that Duterte ignores the criticism, and in the wake of the West’s pushback, tends to snuggle up to China, which says nothing about the human rights situation.

Lending economic support to countries which get criticized by the West for their strong-arm tactics and oppression of human rights and placing them under its influence is standard practice for China. Cambodia, part of the Association of South East Asian Nations’ pro-China faction, is the classic example, but the Philippines is special.

The Court of Arbitration in the Hague rejected China’s claims in the South China Sea. Do not forget that the Philippines is the country that won the lawsuit.

The verdict is a major boon in halting China’s maritime expansion and the Philippines should step forward and call out China’s transgressions in the future. It cannot be good for the verdict to just be a card to attract Chinese economic support.

Is it right to jump for immediate profit while excusing inappropriate control over the South China Sea? The Philippines should decide to reverse its withdrawal from the Visiting Forces Agreement to reaffirm its cooperation against China.

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