Seldom are Philippine affairs the stuff of clickbait here in North America. Dominating headlines this week were the Wuhan coronavirus, the release of the Pentagon’s fiscal 2021 defense budget proposal, impeachment and acquittal, and on and on. The apparent demise of an obscure treaty between the Philippine Islands and the United States barely registered in the conversation about foreign and defense affairs.
Too bad. Terminating the U.S.-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) could ripple throughout Southeast Asia to the detriment of not just the Philippines’ defense but U.S. maritime strategy toward China.
Sometimes, it seems, a minor diplomatic fracas carries major repercussions. Last Monday President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration gave notice that it intends to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement, which regulates such matters as criminal jurisdiction over American military personnel and movement of ships and aircraft within sovereign Philippine territory. Duterte was incensed when the U.S. Embassy canceled a visa for Senator Ronald dela Rosa, a former national police chief, over alleged extrajudicial killing of drug traffickers. Without predictable procedures governing military access to the Philippines, the Pentagon will be loath to deploy forces to the country.