The Visiting Forces Agreement Survives

© Moira G. Gallaga

During a meeting between Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and U.S. Secretary of Defense Austin Lloyd at Malacañan Palace on 29 July, President Duterte retracted the planned abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States of America.

It may be recalled that the President has suspended for 3 times the abrogation of the VFA. To get some context and understand the significance of this latest development, check out my article “VFA Gets Another Lease on Life” which was published on the Philippine Daily Inquirer on 07 July.

Testing the Waters

©Moira Garcia Gallaga

On 07 March, 220 Chinese vessels were reported to be moored in Julian Felipe Reef which is within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea. A diplomatic protest was filed on 21 March and the Department of Foreign Affairs summoned the Chinese Ambassador on 13 April to express displeasure over the continued presence of Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef. By 13 April, it was noted that only a handful of Chinese vessels remain in the reef.  

In the weeks that followed, Chinese vessels continued to be spotted in maritime areas claimed by our country. Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana have been very vocal in telling the Chinese government to order their ships to vacate the area. The situation out at sea eventually calmed down though the Philippine Coast Guard has stepped up patrols in the disputed areas.

However, a public debate on current government policy on the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea (SCS/WPS) has broken out with the Government’s policy on the SCS/WPS coming under heavy criticism and scrutiny. There is as much an element of domestic politics in this debate as there is concern over the direction of Philippine foreign policy on the SCS/WPS issue. 

So what do the Chinese make of these public debates in terms of revealing insights regarding where the Philippines stand vis-a-vis their efforts to seek control over a large swathe of the SCS? Was this the intent behind their incursion in March? China was definitely “testing the waters,” not only to send a message, but also to elicit a reaction, to gauge how far they can push the envelope. However, we need to consider that the actions weren’t only directed at us, but to the Americans as well.  

It isn’t a coincidence that this happened a short time after a new US President has been sworn in because it makes perfect sense for Beijing to assess and test the mettle of the new tenant in the White House. What has happened in Julian Felipe Reef is therefore just one piece of a larger puzzle where Beijing is trying to assess Washington’s Indo-Pacific policy and strategy. It was also an opportunity for China to test the commitment of the Americans to its allies in the region.  

Photo via Wikipedia

So yes, the public debates and the ensuing statements coming from the Philippine Government and from those in opposition to current policy may provide the Chinese a better understanding of where they and their SCS policy stands in the Philippines, but if anything, it merely reaffirms what they already know. Nothing new for them in that area. It is likely that the reaction the Chinese are waiting to see from the Philippines is one that involves the fate of the VFA, when the six-month suspension of the abrogation of the VFA that was announced in November expires in May.  

Compared to debates and statements on our SCS/WPS policy, what happens to the VFA is a more relevant development the Chinese are more interested in because termination or continued effectivity of the VFA has a more profound impact to their plans and strategy in relation to the SCS/WPS area than mere policy statements that can easily change or be modified.  

Terminating the VFA under these circumstances would possibly be perceived by the Chinese Government as a lack of confidence in our long-time ally. This will be seen as an opening to further drive a wedge between the Philippines and the US.  

The Chinese know that the fate of the VFA was to be decided soon and stirred trouble at Julian Felipe Reef as a test and to create conditions that the Philippines will be forced to consider in its decision on the VFA.

On 14 June, they got their answer. For the third time, President Duterte suspended the abrogation of the VFA for another 6 months. You can read my take on that particular development in my article published on 07 July on the Philippine Daily Inquirer titled, “VFA gets another lease on life.”

11 July 2021

“VFA gets another lease on life”

©Moira G. Gallaga

Here is my take on the third suspension of the abrogation of the Philippine-US Visiting Forces Agreement. It was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on 07 July 2021.

Incentives vs Civic Duty

©Moira G. Gallaga

My latest article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer:

However, is the use of incentives, particularly raffles and lotteries, a good and effective policy for changing the minds of the vaccine-hesitant? Given that vaccination is critical to the lifting of restrictions that have stifled the economy, led to massive job losses, and closed scores of businesses, shouldn’t getting vaccinated be considered the civic duty of citizens?

22 June 2021

Freedom of Information: When will it pass?

© Moira Garcia Gallaga

On Saturday, 12 June, I came across this opinion piece on the Philippine Daily Inquirer calling for the Freedom of Information bill to be passed. It caught my attention because about a decade ago I was writing on the same subject myself and calling for its passage into law. I think it is time once more to start clamoring for its passage. The issues and the relevance of this bill remain the same.

A Lower House bill for FOI was passed in the Philippines in 2008, but the counterpart bill needed in the Senate to make it into a law is still pending. In 2009, the bill failed ratification because the House of Representatives lacked the required quorum.

My article on the subject dated 29 September 2011 titled: “Diplo-pinion: Breaking the Cycle of Corruption in the Philippines (Freedom of Information)”

14 June 2021

First Impressions and Life’s Contradictions

©Moira G. Gallaga

From the President himself, “DO NOT BE A YES MAN.”

First impressions count, they say;

Yet do not judge a book by its cover.

Ah, life’s awash with contradiction.

What should one make of the situation?

Power and wealth are highly sought.

Easily making us in awe of authority,

Blinding us to their deficits in virtue and integrity.

Title confer status, but does not guarantee respect.

What should one make of this situation?

A world inhabited by paradoxes,

A life awash with contradiction,

Where truth is never easy to see.

“Beware of the half truth. You may have gotten hold of the wrong half.” – Unknown

One must gaze through masks and blinders,

Built by prejudice to obscure reality.

Our sight has need to pierce with impartiality,

To ease the path to seeing equitably.

One must listen with acute discernment,

For the winds carry whispering voices,

Loaded with roiling insecurity and hostility,

In order to hear the message in its purity

And what of our emotions and feelings?

Easily swayed by what people in power say,

Sights and sounds, distorted and deceptive,

A situation to which we are continually captive.

Unfortunately, they are either far outnumbered by those who aren’t or don’t merit attention from the powers that be who prefer more compliant allies.

We often are blinded by the trappings of humanity:

Titles, degrees, positions, hierarchies, and affiliations.

What are these if not mere accessories,

Which, regrettably, people worship unquestionably.

07 June 2021

Vaccination: Not a choice but a necessity

©Moira G. Gallaga

One of my earlier articles in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Clearly, vaccination is a necessity from a medical and health safety standpoint, but there are strong arguments against making it mandatory. However, when circumstances and factors related to people’s livelihood and well-being essentially depend on it, that reality must be accepted. Choice in that situation is basically a luxury very few can afford.

Do You Believe in a World Without Wars

©Moira G Gallaga

Note: I stumbled very recently on this very short piece that I wrote back in 12 February 2012 as I was going over some of my old postings. With the recent conflicts and war in Gaza, Myanmar and other parts of the globe right now, notwithstanding the presence of a pandemic, it caught my attention. Amazing how the passing of 9 years lets you see something you write in a different way. I don’t see myself writing this today, at least not in the manner I have expressed it back then. I still get the point I was trying to make all those years ago, about the importance of individual agency and that the trade-off would be conflict and war. However, I would have made more effort to stress that while we should celebrate and value individuality and independent thought, violence and conflict should never be tolerated as a natural outcome of this process. I guess the adage that one mellows with age is true. Well, it is in my case based on this post, hahaha.

“The first casualty of war is the truth.” – Aeschylus

Unfortunately, war is and has been a constant companion of humanity. In my opinion, the absence of war will only mean one thing, humanity as a whole has become one mindless and single-minded entity. War is a consequence of conflict and conflict results from a clash of ideas, thoughts, necessity, etc… As long as humans are capable of independent thought then conflict is inevitable. This means to have a world without war is to have mankind thinking alike and in synch with each other, like a hive of some sort. I think I’d prefer to have the privilege and freedom to think and decide for myself, even if this makes the world a dangerous place to some extent. Besides, if we have the capacity to wage war, then we also have a capacity to wage peace. It’s simply a matter of finding a balance between the two.

“History is written by the victors.” Attributed to Winston Churchill but actual origin unknown

20 May 2021

Loss and Grief during the Pandemic: One Year Death Anniversary of Peque Gallaga

©Moira Garcia Gallaga

Today is the one-year death anniversary of Dad (my father-in-law). Except for Mom and one sibling in Bacolod, all of us (children and in-laws) were in Manila because of the MECQ  in place. No flights, and almost everything was closed. He passed away and we couldn’t be there with him and Mom in his final moments.

A death in the family is always difficult. The loss is painful and it rocks you to your core. You work through the pain by grieving, letting it out in the hope it moves on. Apparently, it isn’t that simple. It is a year since Dad’s passing and with no closure we continue to grieve. I could feel it in me, persistent and heavy, weighing me down emotionally.

When someone dies unexpectedly, there is the shock that comes with the realization of the news. This wasn’t like that at all. Dad didn’t die of Covid-19, but his body was letting him down. He was getting in a bad way, but we figured he might bounce back from it. When he had to be brought to the hospital, we had a chance to talk to him over video group chat and figured things might still turn out okay.

Except that wasn’t the case. I can’t imagine what Mom went through when the doctor asked for her decision, but she handled it with strength and a calm resolve. Dad was the spirit and soul of the family, but Mom is the bedrock that holds us together. When Mom updated us the harsh realization that we were going to lose Dad started setting in. This was a shock that leaves you numb. There was also a crawling, creeping fear, bubbling and simmering inside, increasing in intensity as days pass.

It just got worse from there. Bad enough we had to start dealing with losing Dad, it is further aggravated by knowing we couldn’t fly out to be with Mom and him because of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions. As he had to be sedated, we weren’t even able to say goodbye to him by phone or video chat, to let him know how much we loved him and how we were going to miss him. It’s like torture, I am haunted by the thought that if it weren’t for the pandemic, we would have been on a plane already the moment he was brought to hospital. It feels like some minion of Fate is mocking me, playing a cruel joke and enjoying my grief and misery.

Some say parenting is more art than science as there isn’t an exact formula or method to the process. Good thing you’re an artist at heart, Dad

It is one year from Dad’s passing and strangely, Metro Manila is still once again under MECQ. I still haven’t found closure. I miss Dad a lot and whenever his name is mentioned and something is written about him, I tear up and I think all of us do. I still grieve for his loss, as I’m sure the rest of the family likewise continue to do so in our own ways, fractured from each other and stuck in our respective isles of isolation.

Sharing these thoughts and feelings is I guess one way I deal with the loss and this grief I continue to feel. I know there are many around the world who find themselves in similar or somewhat related situations, grieving for a loss in the family from far, far away, waiting to be able to take that journey home to pay their final respect. I think this is a common and indelible feature of the human race, the need to properly mourn and pay respects a departed loved one. I sometimes take small comfort in the words of Helen Keller:

“We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world—the company of those who have known suffering.”

In the meantime, I will continue to carry the hole in my heart created by your departure from this world Dad, and fill it with the pleasant memories I have of you.

It already has been a year,

Sense of grief is always there,

The loss and its pain,

Continues to remain,

Life needs to move on somehow,

But it doesn’t have to be now,

In time this grief will be a small part,

Tucked in some corner of my heart.


We saw this while we were in Istanbul in December, and we were already sobbing by the time the movie got to this part. That cane was like a part of him, I guess the tribute used it to symbolize the mark he left in this world. Farewell Dad, and I would like to think that you are now busy exploring the worlds you created.

Random Musings at a Time of Enforced Isolation

© Moira G. Gallaga

Whenever I take a break from writing, I sometimes end up pondering about this state of enforced immobility and isolation. Here are a few of those random musings:

Instead of exploring places and wandering about the outside world, we make do exploring virtually and going inside our heads, wrestling with our thoughts.

Nature’s healing with people stuck inside their respective homes.

It is an ordeal for a free spirit like me. There is a world of difference between deciding to stay indoors to being forced to stay indoors.

Trying to keep safe from the virus is also an exercise in keeping one’s spirit healthy and lively.

A new normal is being bandied about with vaccinations already ongoing, but will this be the case years down the road? History kind of shows that mankind is not that good in terms of learning from the past.

The streets of the concrete jungle are empty, the metropolis is quiet, its hustle and bustle suspended until further notice

I so miss the little things, even the mundane ones of just having breakfast at Wildflour Cafe here in our area, then to Fully Booked, Healthy Options, and Rustan’s Marketplace. Spontaneously dropping by at friend’s offices, or having lunches or dinner with those whose work is near our place. Hanging out at Washington Sycip Park reading and munching on junk foods and when taking a break people watching those jogging fanatics across Legazpi Active Park inflicting pain on themselves by jogging or exercising.

Pre-pandemic playground

Enforced immobility has forced me to come face to face with a personal project long on hold, disrupted by my frequent wandering about. The situation has finally got me to sit down long enough to finish it.

One down from the bucket list, and freelance gigs

Life in the so called new normal. Adapting to new ways of working. Learning to cope with limited mobility and enforced isolation. Praying for the safety and health of loved ones. Making the most of the situation.

05 May 2021