February 26, 2020 - Wednesday
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To the Filipino soldier, VFA means ogling at weaponry beyond reach

February 13, 2020 - Thursday 4:02 AM by Jimmy Laking

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In 2010, two friends from the military (one an instructor of the Philippine Military Academy and the other a retired Scout Ranger) dropped by a coffee shop along Session Road in Baguio City.

They said they had just come from a joint military exercise in Zambales between Filipino and American forces under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and enjoyed the experience.

They said they enjoyed that part manipulating the weapons and other gadgets willingly handed to them by their counterparts. But they enjoyed most that part comparing notes with their American field officers.

The PMA instructor said skills-wise, the Filipino soldier is well-trained and can more than hold his against his American counterpart.

“But it is in the weaponry and gadgetry that the disparity is glaring and the Filipino soldier is reduced to ogling at those that his American counterpart brings to the imagined battlefield,” he said.

The former scout ranger agreed, saying the Filipino marine or scout ranger is formidable given what his American counterpart is provided.

“With such weapons, I would pick a Filipino army unit anytime over the visitors,” he said.

I also gathered that in most occasions, somehow Filipino officers and soldiers could not resist the idea that they were being used as props every time a so-called joint military exercise is held.

This conversation came to mind lately with the decision of the Philippine government to end the VFA.

Looking back in the interim while the VFA was in existence, China has taken over the West Philippine Sea, 44 police commandos were slaughtered in Mamasapano and Muslim extremists were wiped out in Marawi. There was not basically an upgrading of the Philippine armed forces’ capability arising from the agreement that would have enhanced their performance in the light of the above instances. As I recall the former journalist-turned-public official Ramon “Monching” Mitra Jr. saying: “We have basically a navy that can hardly float and an air force that can hardly fly.”

And it is for this reason that much as President Duterte would like to enforce Philippine sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea, he cannot do so with a navy and an air force that is outmatched and outgunned. Besides, there is no guarantee that the United States with whom the Philippines is linked through a mutual defense treaty will back its play with even a contingent of the Seventh Fleet.

So you can more less discern where Apo Digong is coming from in so far as VFA is concerned. It is basically an executive agreement probably meant to enhance the mutual defense treaty signed between the United States and the Philippines in 1951.

That treaty bound both parties to come to each other’s help in case one party is attacked.

Article II of that agreement states: “In order more effectively to achieve the objective of this Treaty, the parties separately and jointly by self-help and mutual aid will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”

Under this agreement, the Philippines had one of the best air forces in Southeast Asia from the 1950s to the early 1960s, and was the recipient of World War II-vintage warships that were serviceable during the period.

But that was as far as it went as the Philippines could only rely on hand-me-downs from Uncle Sam from then on. Tough luck.

Was President Duterte right in ending the VFA? I’d like to say it is pure common sense. By all means, while he remains the President and as he sees fit, there is no point in maintaining an agreement that is shot through with holes and characterized by lack of respect from the start. It was all for show, aron ingnon, as they say it aptly in these parts.

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