Thu. Aug 5th, 2021

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte has not given his nod on efforts to craft another military deal between the Philippines and the United States as a replacement for the scrapped Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Malacañang said on Sunday.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo stressed that Duterte’s stance on boosting the Philippines’ defense capabilities sans the help of other countries “remains unchanged.”

“Even assuming na totoo yun, eh yun puro rekomendasyon lang kay Presidente (Even assuming that is true, that’s just a recommendation to the President),” he told DZIQ. “Gusto niya pa rin na matanggal ang VFA. Gusto niya talagang maging self-reliant talaga. ‘Yun ang pinaka-punto niya (He wants VFA scrapped. He wants the country to be really self-reliant. That’s his main point).”

On Friday, Philippine Ambassador to US Jose Manuel Romualdez said talks are ongoing between Manila and Washington to “come up with something similar” to VFA.

Panelo, however, said Duterte did not give Romualdez the authority to negotiate with his counterpart, US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, to craft a new military agreement between the two countries.

He added that it could be the US’s initiative to create a new military pact with the Philippines.

“Walang basbas ni Presidente. Initiative siguro ‘yun ng counterpart ni Ambassador Romualdez. Syempre, sila ang apektado eh. Kaya sila ang mag-i-initiate ng magandang panukala (It has no blessing from the President. Perhaps, it’s the initiative of Ambassador Romualdez’s counterpart. They are the ones affected. That’s why they’re initiating such proposal),” he said.

The VFA, a 1998 agreement between the Manila and Washington, allows American forces to enter the Philippines without passport and visa to allow them to participate in joint military drills in the host country.

The Philippines, however, sent a formal notice of termination to the US on February 11.

The 22-year-old military deal is effectively abrogated, 180 days after the US received the termination notice.

Panelo reiterated that Duterte revoked the VFA because he wants the Philippines to rely on its own.

“Talagang ang paniniwala niya, ang bansa natin ay dapat tumayo bilang isang bansa. On our own. Hindi pu-pwedeng palagi na lang tayong umaasa sa ibang bansa para ipagtanggol natin ang ating mga sarili (His belief is our country should stand on its own feet, on our own. We could not always rely on other countries to defend our country),” he said.

Eventual abrogation of 2 other military deals

Panelo also maintained that the Philippines would eventually scrap the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US.

“Okay pa ‘yun hanggang ngayon pero eventually papunta na tayo doon (The two agreements are still there, but eventually, these will be terminated. In other words),” he said, referring to MDT and EDCA.

Asked if there is already an order from Duterte to review MDT or EDCA, Panelo said: “They don’t have to be told by the President. Palaging merong review. (There is always a review.”

MDT seeks to step up the defense and security cooperation between the US and Philippine troops, while EDCA aims to enhance military ties in maritime security and domain.

The other existing military pact between the Philippines and Washington is the 1947 Military Assistance Agreement, which intends to give advice and training to the Armed Forces of the Philippines through the Joint US Military Assistance Group.

Military deals with other states ‘still safe’

Meantime, Panelo said other existing military agreements with other countries remain “safe,” unless there is a “compelling” reason for Duterte to scrap the deals.

Panelo, however, ensured that Duterte would make a move based on “national interest and general welfare.”

“‘Yung (The) compelling reason will depend on the President. That’s his call,” he said. “Si Presidente, he’s very calculating person. Nag-iisip iyan. Matagal niyang pinag-iisipan iyan. Dahan-dahan. Ganoon ang Presidente natin (He thinks and it takes time for him to think. He’s not in a rush. That’s how the President acts).” (PNA)

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