“We’ll save a lot of money”
US President Donald Trump is unperturbed by the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Philippines.
“I really don’t mind. If they would like to do that, that’s fine. We’ll save a lot of money,” Trump said as President Rodrigo Duterte ended the Philippines’ 22-year-old military agreement with the US.
The termination of VFA, which was signed in February 1998, will take effect 180 days following the receipt of formal notice sent by the Philippines to the US government on Tuesday, February 11.
Some Duterte critics assailed the termination that they feared would place the Philippines’ security at risk.
But presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo sees Trump’s reaction in a different light.
The Philippines has gained respect from the United States following the termination of the Visiting of Forces Agreement, Panelo on Thursday said in a Palace press briefing when asked if Manila gained Washington’s respect after the revocation.
“Yes of course. How? By terminating it, we show them that we do not need them,” he said.
According to the transcript of his remarks uploaded on the official website of the White House, Trump viewed Duterte’s latest action as a welcome development since the US will “save a lot of money.”
“I really don’t mind. If they would like to do that, that’s fine. We’ll save a lot of money,” Trump said.
Trump, nevertheless, said he has a “very good” relationship with Duterte, and stressed that he is still unsure of what will happen next.
“We’ll see what happens. They’ll have to tell me that,” he said.
Panelo said the Palace respects Trump’s response to Duterte’s abrogation of Manila’s VFA with Washington.
He, however, expressed doubts over the seriousness of Trump’s remarks.
“The statements of Mr. Trump, we do not know exactly whether he was very serious (about) that. You must remember that the VFA and other treaties are there precisely because of the global, strategic, defensive positioning of the United States,” Panelo said.
Panelo said Trump seemed to have agreed with Duterte that it is about time for the Philippines to boost its defense capabilities sans the help of other countries like its long-time ally, the US.
“Maybe he (Trump) agrees with the position of the President that it is time that we stand on our own resources and defend our country from enemies of the state by ourselves and not rely on the help of other countries. We weaken ourselves if we keep on being (a) parasite to any of the countries,” he said.
Disadvantageous to PH
US Defense chief Mark Esper considered the Philippines’ move as an “unfortunate,” but Panelo viewed it as a “move in the right direction” that should have been done a “long time ago.”
Panelo said Duterte’s stance to rescind VFA “remains unchanged.”
He insisted that VFA is disadvantageous to Filipino troops since it only favors American forces who are visiting the Philippines.
“But on the part of the President, this is the time to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement to stress the point that one, it is not advantageous to us. Because the more we rely on them, the more our position weakens and stagnate our defenses,” Panelo said.
Visiting US military personnel can use their permits and licenses in the Philippines, according to VFA. They can also fly to the host country without passport and visa restrictions.
Possible EDCA, MDT abrogation
Panelo also floated the possibility that Duterte might also revoke the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between Manila and Washington.
MDT aims to boost the defense and security cooperation between the two countries’ troops, while EDCA intends to boost military ties in maritime security and domain.
Panelo based his remarks on Duterte’s “body language” and pronouncement of strengthening the Philippines’ defense capabilities.
“Well, to be consistent with his stand, then all treaties must go, by the tone of his body language. Kasi ‘pag sinabi mong (Because if you said) we have to stand on our own, not rely on, ibig sabihin, hindi natin kailangan (meaning, we don’t need them). We’ll have to strengthen our own resources,” he said, referring to MDT and EDCA.
Apart from MDT and EDCA, the Philippines’s existing military pact with the US includes the 1947 Military Assistance Agreement, which seeks to give advice and training to the Armed Forces of the Philippines through the joint US Military Assistance Group.
No VFAs with other states
Following VFA’s termination, Panelo said Duterte is not bent on entering into another VFA with other countries.
His statement came after Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. said the military will be pushing for military cooperation arrangements with other nations, including China, to fill the possible security gaps with the revocation of VFA with the US.
Panelo said the AFP should defer to the President’s pronouncement that the Philippines will stand on its own and avoid relying on other countries.
“Sabi niya (Duterte said), ‘It’s about time we stand on our own,’” he said. “The moment he makes the position, then the AFP will have to follow.” (with PNA report).