Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Saturday that the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US could be terminated if the US fails to deliver at least 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the country, meaning the US soldiers stationed there may be booted out. “No vaccine, no stay here,” he remarked.
The US possesses a vast network of overseas military bases worldwide. But it is uncommon to see the top leader of an allied country publicly raise a demand toward Washington with the future of US military presence at stake. As the sole global superpower, the US is supposed to offer emergency assistance to its allies amid a crisis. But its leadership is failing. Duterte’s remarks act as a proof.
When the last group of sailors and marines at Subic Bay, once among the largest US naval bases in the world, left in 1992, the long-term stationing of American troops in the Philippines ended. Now, if the US desires to conduct military maneuvers in the Western Pacific with the Philippines acting as leverage, it relies on the VFA, which serves to simplify access procedures for US military personnel to have a temporary presence in the Southeast Asian country.
If the VFA is scrapped, the US will lose a vital strategic fulcrum for its future activities in the Asia-Pacific region, leading to bumps in the road for its regional strategy.
Epidemic prevention and control has been the top priority for the Philippines in 2020. This has also become a litmus test of the US-Philippine alliance. Nevertheless, the US, overwhelmed by recurring waves in coronavirus infections, failed the test, showing no capacity to help its allies.
Worse, it was busy doing something else – roping in as many countries as possible, including the Philippines, to join its anti-China campaign and deliberately creating tension in the South China Sea with frequent military moves in the waters. Duterte was not led by the nose and he has been focusing on the fight against the virus. As early as September, he vowed to prioritize buying COVID-19 vaccines from Russia and China, while accusing Western countries of making their vaccines all about “profit.”
US allies are not supposed to sacrifice their own interests for the US for nothing. When Washington needs Manila to stir up troubles in the South China Sea, it sees the Philippines as a pawn. Now the Philippines, hit hard by the novel coronavirus epidemic, needs help from the US, and let’s see what Uncle Sam can provide for them.
Duterte’s remarks cannot reveal whether the country is anti-US or pro-China, but demonstrates the fact that the Philippines have seen a vital truth. Allies should be on equal footing, yet the US does not think so. Germany is a US ally, but the US shows no hesitation in slapping tariffs on EU products, badly hurting the German automobile sector. The US has also threatened Germany with sanctions for constructing a gas pipeline linking with Russia.
Japan is another US ally, but the US crushed its economy decades ago and now it blackmails Japan to pay more to host US forces. The first call US President Donald Trump made to South Korean President Moon Jae-in in March this year was purely about requesting supplies to help the US combat the virus.
Discontent with the integration of Europe, the US encouraged the UK to divorce from the EU. Now London has tied the British chariot tightly with Washington. But the latter has not yet conducted any major aid measures to the UK, after London lost control of its epidemic battle.
As it turns out, being a US ally means one has to focus on pursuing interests for the US, even when all it can get from Uncle Sam is intimidation and blackmail. Duterte blurts out the truth like the child in the folktale “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” who reminded the others that they have been fooled.
The Philippines has set an example for countries that allow the stationing of US troops worldwide. In a crisis like this, they all have the right to raise demands toward the US.