DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Progressive groups supported the government’s move to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States (US).

These groups have long opposed to the presence of American troops in the country.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. announced on Tuesday, that the US Embassy’s deputy chief of mission have already received the termination notice, which will take effect after 180 days or about six months.

As Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) started its 180-day countdown to VFA termination, it said that the public should be vigilant and oppose possible reversal and renegotiation by the Philippine government, as well as “pressure and maneuvers” coming from the US.

Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr., in a statement on Wednesday, said the termination of the VFA is “an opportunity for the Philippines to move away from its military dependence on the US.”

Following the country’s termination of the VFA, Bayan urged the government to also cancel the upcoming Balikatan military exercises in April.

Last January, President Duterte threatened to terminate the VFA, expressing his anger over the US government’s decision to cancel the visa of Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, who previously led the bloody anti-drug campaign when he was the police chief.

Such “trivial” reason for terminating the two-decade-old military accord, however, is frustrating on the part of Moro group Suara Bangsamoro, saying that the government should recognize that human rights violations against Filipinos have been committed by US soldiers under the VFA.

Amirah Lidasan, former national chairperson of Suara Bangsamoro, explained that human rights defenders have been submitting reports to the Legislative Oversight Committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement (LOVFA) in previous administrations on several documented cases of human rights violations.

These included violations committed in Moro communities in Mindanao during Balikatan exercises.

“We submitted several cases of the presence of US troops during combat operations where they were seen leading AFP troops from 2002 to 2009, and were identified by victims of shooting, maiming, and killing,” Lidasan said.

“Our communities and people were used [for their] target practice. We have reports of individuals being shot during target practice and residential areas bombed due to ‘misfiring’,” she added.

Lidasan also deplored the inability of the Philippine government to hold the US troops accountable for their “atrocities” against Filipinos under such agreement.

“That’s why it is insulting, especially to the victims, (to know) that President Duterte is giving more emphasis on the trivial reason of cancelling the US visa of Sen. Bato as a ground for abrogating the VFA,” Lidasan said.

Meanwhile, progressive groups also called for the termination of other military agreements with the US, such as the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

Bayan also underscored that terminating the VFA should not mean rushing into a new military agreement with another foreign power such as China.

“The defense of the Philippines, including the West Philippine Sea, falls on the Philippine Government and the Filipino people, not on any foreign power with its own agenda. We cannot enter into a military agreement with China since we have a conflict in the West Philippine Sea,” Reyes added. (davaotoday.com)

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