Malilong: Are we back to being friends with the US?

Frank Malilong

ARE we seeing a thaw in the diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the United States?

On Feb. 11 this year, our government served notice to the US embassy in Manila that we are scrapping the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that we entered into with the Americans through an executive agreement that was drawn in 1998. The VFA allowed the “rotational presence” of American troops in the country for humanitarian operations and joint military exercises.

Relations between the two countries had been tenuous since President Rodrigo Duterte came into office in 2016. He said he wanted to cut our dependence on the US even as he embraced the friendship of China and Russia.

The last straw came in late January when the US cancelled the visa it had granted to Sen. Bato dela Rosa because of his role as architect of Duterte’s war on drugs. Against the advice of his defense secretary and his allies in the Senate, he had his foreign affairs secretary serve the termination notice.

Under the terms of the VFA, the cancellation was going to take effect 180 days from notice which would be in the second week of August. Last Tuesday, however, the foreign affairs secretary announced that our country was suspending its decision to cancel the agreement, effectively tolling the running of the 180-day period.

The suspension, it was explained, was due to political and other developments in the region. Welcoming the decision, the US Embassy said that their “long-standing alliance” with the Philippines “has benefitted both countries” and that they “look forward to continued close security and defense cooperation with the Philippines.”

How our government’s resurrection of a dying agreement with the US will affect our growing friendship with China is interesting to see. Will it bring about more aggressive action by the Chinese government against our own interests in the West Philippine Sea? Will it affect the loan agreements that we signed with them?

I’m sure the President and his advisers had considered all the implications before they informed the US Embassy that we have changed our minds on the cancellation of the VFA. Let’s just say that they have access to information that we don’t and trust that their decision is based on the best interests of the country.

While some quarters may be unhappy with the government about-face, I am quite certain that it will be well received by majority of the Filipinos. There remains a wellspring of goodwill for America among our people despite the criticisms, that, by the way, are mostly justified that our relationship has disadvantaged us and favored them.

What do the Tagalogs say about long-lasting friendships through rough patches? May pinagsamahan.