Friday, February 14, 2020

Duterte scraps VFA; wrong move, says Pentagon

‘I don't really mind if they would like to do that, it will save a lot of money – Trump’

PRESIDENT DUTERTE’s termination of the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States was a wrong move, the Pentagon said, but it will save a lot of money for Washington, according to President Donald Trump.

When asked whether he would try to persuade Duterte to reconsider his decision to scrap the VFA, Trump said: “Well I never minded that very much, to be honest. We helped the Philippines very much. We helped them defeat ISIS ... I don't really mind if they would like to do that, it will save a lot of money. My views are different from others.” 

President Donald Trump (White House)

Duterte junked the VFA after Washington cancelled the visa of former national police chief and now Senator Ronald dela Rosa. He also lambasted the United States for interfering with the country’s political affairs and its criticism of the government’s deadly war on drugs which Dela Rosa engineered through the so-called Oplan Tokhang when he was the chief of the Philippine National Police.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said: “Aside from the inequities brought about by the provisions found in the VFA, the decision of the President to cause the termination of the said agreement is a consequence of a series of legislative and executive actions by the US government that bordered on assaulting our sovereignty and disrespecting our judicial system. In addition, the President believes that our country cannot forever rely on other countries for the defense of the state and should instead strengthen our own resources for our defenses.”

Panelo said Duterte will not entertain any initiative coming from the American government to salvage the VFA, neither will he accept any official invitation to visit the United States. “All these actions are anchored on the policy of PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) to chart an independent foreign policy with our foreign relations with other states being based on national interests and general welfare,” he said.

Defense Secretary Mark Thomas Esper (U.S. Army Photo by Monica A. Kin)
Defense Secretary Mark Thomas Esper reacting on Duterte’s termination of the VFA told reporters: “I do think it would be a move in the wrong direction as -- as we both bilaterally with the Philippines and collectively with a number of other partners and allies in the region are trying to say to the Chinese: “You must obey the international rules of order. You must obey, you know, abide by international norms.”

He added: “And as we try and, you know, bolster our presence and compete with them in this era of great power competition, I think it's a move in the wrong direction for -- for, again, for the longstanding relationship we've had with the Philippines for their strategic location, the ties between our peoples, our countries.”

Esper said the United States received the notification of Duterte’s termination of the VFA. “We've got to read it. We've got to digest it. One hundred and eighty days. We've got to work through it, and -- and we'll just take a deep breath and take it one day at a time. We have to work through the policy angles, the military angles. I'm going to hear from my commanders. But you know, in my view, it's unfortunate that they would make this move.”

The United States Embassy in Manila said the termination of the VFA will have significant implications, branding Duterte’s move as “serious.”

“This is a serious step with significant implications for the US-Philippines alliance,” the Embassy said, adding, Washington will carefully consider how best to move forward to advance shared interests. “Our two countries enjoy a warm relationship, deeply rooted in history. We remain committed to the friendship between our two peoples,” it said.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said: “With the formal serving of the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, this year’s planned military exercises with the Americans shall proceed as scheduled within the 180 days that the VFA remains in force. However, our American counterparts may opt to discontinue the scheduled exercises before the 180 days are up. Once the termination is final, we will cease to have exercises with them.”

Senator Panfilo Lacson, who also served as national police chief, said the Philippines stands to lose more with the termination of the VFA. “Like it or not, bad or good, nothing much can be done now but do a 180-day countdown upon receipt of the notice by Washington. What is certain is that the 1951 PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty will now be reduced to a mere paper treaty as far as the US is concerned.”

“Having said that, there’s no more intelligence information sharing in our fight against domestic and foreign terrorist acts, no more US military aid and financing that accounts for a good 52% of what they extend to the whole Asia-Pacific region. That may not include other intangible economic benefits and security from external threats in the West Philippine Sea, as well as humanitarian aid in times of disasters, epidemics and other crises,” he added. (Mindanao Examiner)

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