By Axcel Quing

Cartoon by Rhuvic Marie Salvoza

Due to the COVID-19 vaccine donations of the United States of America, President Rodrigo Duterte was “pushed” to restore the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). It is only right and just to thank the US for their donations. However, we cannot submerge our national sovereignty to aggression and foreign domination by keeping the military deal instead of exercising independent foreign policy.

The Philippines has recently received another 3 million doses of US-generated Moderna vaccine, following the Western ally’s earlier donation of 3.2 million doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines. 

The thing here is, Washington “donated” the vaccines. It is only the responsibility of global leaders, like the US, to help the struggling third-world countries, like the Philippines, especially amidst a crisis. In fact, the US has delivered 110 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to 65 countries from Afghanistan to Zambia. From that 65 countries, no one has surrendered their independence in exchange for America’s generosity except the Philippines. Therefore, keeping the military pact between the Philippines and the US is quite irrelevant.

In a microscope, the decades-old VFA has a long history of American atrocity and abuses in the Philippines. It exempts US forces from local sanctions and jurisdictions for crimes committed in the Philippines. It also allows unrestricted movements of US vessels and aircraft in the country. In other words, it offers certain privileges to the American forces visiting the Philippines. 

The special treatment enjoyed by US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, who strangled and drowned the Pinay transgender woman Jenifer Laude in 2014, was a concrete example of American privileges brought by VFA. He was sentenced to solitary confinement in Camp Aguinaldo, QC, rather than to crowded prisons like any other murderers. However, last 2020, Pemberton was granted an absolute pardon by none other than President Duterte. Duterte’s limbo-rack take on VFA and the absolute pardon granted to Pemberton are implied to be actions made to please the Americans.

President Duterte must be aware that not every donation and help needs something in return. If China donates vaccines, we should not give West Philippine Sea in return. Likewise, if America donates vaccines, we should not renew VFA as an exchange. We should not risk our own sovereignty in exchange for vaccines which are deemed as a solution to the damage exacerbated by our failed pandemic response. Our desperation for something cannot and will never justify toleration of modern colonialism, aggression, and foreign domination. We have been losing lives due to this pandemic, but we cannot also afford to surrender and lose our long-fought freedom and independence. 

Thank you, America for your vaccine donations. The Filipino nation sincerely appreciates your help but that should be it. No more, no less.