PHILIPPINES: Duterte Ends US Military Agreement, Strengthens Ties with Chinese Imperialism

Photo: Fascist President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte

By Felipe Vera

On February 11, Filippino President Rodrigo Duterte announced that the Philippines would be withdrawing from the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) pact with the US. The move signifies that the fascist Duterte regime is opting to realign itself with Chinese social-imperialism after a long history of the old Filipino state functioning as a lackey of US imperialism, the sole hegemonic superpower in the world today.

The VFA between the US and the Philippines has been in effect since May 1999. This pact established joint-military exercises, numbering about 300 per year, between US troops and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). It also allows for US military personnel and equipment to pass through the archipelago nation, which is a key strategic point in Southeast Asia.

One of the most controversial conditions of the VFA is that it prevents US military personnel from being sentenced to Filipino prisons, leaving them under the full authority of the US military.

This was exemplified in the 2005 case where US Lance Corporal Daniel Smith had been convicted of raping Suzette “Nicole” Nicolas, but was exempt from serving time in a Filipino prison until the case was controversially overturned in 2009. Aside from this, it has also been brought up in the 2014 killing of Filippino transgender woman Jennifer Laude by US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton. Prostitution and the sex trade have also grown and flourished in correspondence to the establishment of US military outposts.

One of the most sinister roles played by the VFA pact has been the US military training the AFP in counterinsurgency tactics. From 2016 to 2019, the US has supplied the old Filipino state with $550 million in military aid, and although not overtly stated, the agreement has been used to aid the AFP in its ongoing genocidal campaign against the People’s War waged by the New People’s Army (NPA) and led by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) for the past 50 years.

One key factor that led to this withdrawal was the US invocation of the American Magnitsky Act, which allows the US to impose financial and visa sanctions against international violators of ‘human rights.’  The US used this to cancel the visa of National Police Chief Ronald ‘Bato’ Dela Rosa, who is currently in charge of Duterte’s brutal drug war which has claimed the lives of at least 20,000 people while doing nothing to solve the country’s drug problem.

Although notice has been given to the US, both the US and the Philippines will remain on the contract for 180 days before it is completely dissolved, unless an agreement is reached before then. While this will not completely remove US troops from the Philippines, it will affect other agreements such as the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) which is a supplemental agreement to the VFA and allows for the rotation of US troops and extended stays.

Filippino protesters burn the Chinese Flag.

US President Donald Trump mentioned that terminating the VFA would “save a lot of money,” but other sections of the US imperialist ruling class are uneasy over the Duterte regime’s increasing overtures to Chinese social-imperialism. The country has signed several deals with China including infrastructure mega-projects like the Kaliwa Dam, which have served as an outlet for the export of Chinese finance capital and increased China’s influence as a creditor over poorer countries in Southeast Asia. The dam project has faced harsh opposition, especially from indigenous communities within its area of impact.

Regardless of whether the Filippino government chooses to align with the US or China, the semifeudal and semicolonial conditions of the country will remain unaltered as long as it remains under the thumb of imperialism. Both imperialist powers have an interest in exporting finance capital to Filippino markets as a way of subjugating the national economy and reaping superprofits.

Duterte may genuinely see promise in aligning with a rising imperialist in China, or he may be pitting the imperialist rivals against each other to secure more favorable agreements in the future; at this point his intentions are still unclear. What is clear is that both US and Chinese imperialists, as well as the reactionary old state and the fascist Duterte regime that currently props it up, are enemies of the Filippino people which can only be expelled through the ongoing People’s War and the New Democratic Revolution.