Cause-oriented groups are not too happy with the failure of President Benigno Aquino III to raise the issue of the controversial Visiting Forces Agreement and the overstaying American troops in Mindanao during the Philippine president’s 7-minute meeting with US president Barack Obama.
“It was a missed opportunity to assert our national interest on such a crucial issue like the VFA. Between the issue of the World War 2 American ammunition dump in Corregidor and the permanent and continuing presence of US soldiers in Mindanao, surely the latter has more far-reaching implications on our Constitution and our sovereignty. The VFA is a long-festering problem in RP-US relations yet the ammo dump in Corregidor seemed the more important topic for the President,”said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
“Whatever happened to Mr. Aquino’s campaign promise of having the VFA reviewed?” he asked.
The Philippine Senate has unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the President to notify the US government of the need to review and renegotiate the VFA and if refused, the Philippine government should terminate the agreement. The resolution was adopted during the time Aquino was still a senator.
“The prioritization of the issues seems misplaced. There has been a clamor from various sectors regarding the VFA. Was the president trying to play it safe with the US government? Was this a result of the $434 million aid from the Millennium Challenge Corporation?” Reyes asked.
The MCC is an institution run by the US government. Its board chairman is US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. The State Department is in charge of overseeing such bilateral military agreements as the VFA.
Bayan has argued that the VFA has allowed US troops to have a permanent and continuing presence in Mindanao. Last August 2009, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that 600 US Special Forces will remain in Mindanao indefinitely. The announcement was reported by the New York Times and drew sharp criticism from many lawmakers.
“The Philippine president could have at least inquired why these US troops are still in the Philippines more than a year after the announcement made by Gates. The Philippine president should at least be concerned on this indefinite stay of foreign troops on Philippine soil which is in direct violation of the Philippine Constitution,” Reyes said.