Philippines Says Yes to BRI, No to VFA
07-03-2020: In a ground-breaking move, in February the popularly elected Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte followed through on his previous indications he would downgrade the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the government of the United States of America (US). He gave the US formal notice of his decision to scrap the long standing bilateral agreement. The VFA, signed in 1998, had given the US a virtual free hand to rotate its troops throughout the Philippines, the main purpose of which was to conduct joint “military exercises”. In reality, the VFA ensured legal immunity for the actions of US troops on Filipino territory, while integrating the Philippines into the web of US imperialist threatened assaults on the Pacific region. Thanks to stirring bravery shown by President Duterte – standing up to the US despite possible threats to his own life – for the first time the Philippines is breaking from its former colonial power, and on to more productive and beneficial relations with other powers which show it respect – particularly the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Decline of US as regional hegemon
Although this decision was ostensibly in response to the US revoking the visa of Philippine Senator Dela Rosa, there are deeper moves afoot. Senator Dela Rosa was the former National Police Chief who headed President Duterte’s war on drug dealers and pushers, which liberal (and US backed) NGOs have criticised for alleged abuses of “human rights”. Yet most Filipinos strongly support President Duterte as well as his declared determination to deal with the drug problem in the country. They are aware that liberal (conservative in practice) opposition to the drug war is linked to the fake “human rights” industry, wielded by the West to bring Third World countries to heel. And in fact, President Duterte’s war on drug dealers has been backed by US President Donald Trump several times. On this and many other issues, President Trump differs to the US deep state and his liberal Democrat opposition.
Incredibly, the cancellation of the VFA ends legal immunity for US troops operating in the Philippines. Many people in Japan have protested for decades demanding the ending of legal immunity for US troops operating there. This is another strong sign that President Duterte is leading the push to pivot the Philippines away from the US and towards the PRC – and Russia – for the first time in history. This can only be welcomed by workers in the Philippines and internationally. US imperialism has been gung-ho recently, potentially preparing for a military conflict with the socialist giant of the PRC. President Duterte’s “pivot” away from the US and towards China and Russia throws another spanner in the works of US plans to use the Philippines as a staging post to a possible war with the PRC. It is a move which could give the Philippines some protection in case of a Washington launched World War III. It is also another indicator that US imperialist power is declining in the Asia-Pacific, thanks to links nations there can forge with China and Russia. As neither China nor Russia are imperialist, these links are not ones of domination or plunder, but ties of mutual benefit.
Philippines joins the New Silk Road
In November 2018, President Duterte and PRC President Xi Jinping signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) linking the Philippines as yet another country to have signed on to the PRC’s trillion dollar trade and infrastructure Belt and Road Initiative (BRI – sometimes referred to as the New Silk Road). In the MOU, the Philippines and the PRC agree to co-operate in infrastructure, trade, investment development, and interconnectivity in the transportation, telecommunication and energy sectors. This gels with President Duterte’s recent slogan of “Build, Build, Build”, which aims to lift the infrastructure of the Philippines finally from Third World status. It is the PRC’s gargantuan socialist economy, predominantly state owned and controlled, which enables it to launch such a vast project across some 60 countries. President Duterte sought to take advantage of the BRI and links with the PRC because he is one of the leaders who can see that the rise of China offers tangible benefits for other countries which the US is not in a position to offer, given its long term economic, and therefore political, decline.
US imperialism (backed by Canberra) is the number one enemy of working and oppressed people worldwide. This is one reason why workers internationally should welcome the moves by President Duterte to tilt the Philippines away from the US and towards the PRC for mutual economic benefit. It ensures that the Philippines will not aid, nor be a staging post, for a US led war against the PRC. In addition, the tilt towards Russia for security issues adds a vital counterbalance to the ever-present danger of US military provocations, so workers must not stand in the way of this either. The majority of Filipino workers strongly support President Duterte, regardless of his liberal critics, internally and externally. This is a crucial factor which Marxists must take into account – as it cannot be denied.
Despite this, the only permanent solution to the problem of economic underdevelopment in the Philippines and the threat of US led imperialist war is the triumph of the workers through proletarian revolutions in the region. Workers’ power in Australia, Japan and the US would be a vast step towards socialism. The PRC, on the other hand, requires a real re-alignment of its political leadership towards genuine Leninism. Key to this perspective are the forging of vanguard parties to guide workers to realise their potential. In the meantime, such parties should strategically defend Filipino sovereignty against US imperialism, and its alliances with the non-imperialist powers. This means a temporary bloc with the Duterte administration against those who would join with non-Trumpist Washington – US backed NGOs, the “human rights” industrial complex, and assorted social-democrats.
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