The government of the Republic of the Philippines has announced the termination of a key military agreement with the United States.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on February 11, 2020 that the country is ending its Visiting Forces Agreement or VFA with the U.S.
For his part, U.S. President Donald Trump, speaking at the White House on February 12, brushed off Duterte’s decision to end military pact.
According to Trump, he didn’t mind Duterte’s decision, saying it would save money for the U.S.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper called the Philippine move “unfortunate”.
The decision will take effect in 180 days.
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.”
Trump said he had “a very good” relationship with Duterte and added, “we’ll see what happens.”
Duterte’s decision was sparked by the revocation of a U.S. visa held by a former police chief and now Senator Ronaldo Dela Rosa.
Dela Rosa led the campaign against drugs as head of the Philippine National Police or PNP.
The VFA sets out rules for US soldiers operating in the Philippines.
Ending the VFA could also hurt Washington’s future interests in maintaining an Asia-Pacific troop presence amid friction over the presence of US personnel in Japan and South Korea and security concerns about China and North Korea.
Duterte has said the US uses the pacts to conduct clandestine activities such as spying and nuclear-weapons stockpiling, which he said risk making the Philippines a target for Chinese aggression.
Some legislators were concerned that without the VFA, two other pacts would be irrelevant, namely the 2014 Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement made under the former U.S. administration of Barack Obama, and a 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty.
Supporters of the agreements argue they have deterred Chinese militarisation in the South China Sea while $1.3billion of U.S. defence assistance since 1998 has been vital in boosting the capabilities of under-resourced Philippine forces.
Philippine nationalists, however, said the U.S. did nothing to stop China building islands in the South China Sea equipped with missiles and said the VFA is tilted in favour of the Americans, including the granting of immunity from prosecution for U.S. servicemen .
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has signed and delivered the notice of termination of the Philippines’ VFA with the U.S. on February 11.
Locsin made the confirmation on Twitter, adding that the US government has already received the notice.
The U.S. Embassy in Manila on February 11 said the termination of the VFA between the Philippines and the United States will have “significant” implications.
“This is a serious step with significant implications for the US-Philippines alliance. We will carefully consider how best to move forward to advance our shared interests,” the embassy said in a statement.
“Our two countries enjoy a warm relationship, deeply rooted in history. We remain committed to the friendship between our two peoples,” it added.
Majority of senators in the Philippines adopted on February 10 Senate Resolution 312 urging the President to reconsider his plan to rescind the VFA.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan the VFA termination “favors China.”
Pangilinan said Duterte’s move “no longer comes as a surprise given how meek and subservient the administration has been toward China on matters not only of sovereignty but even on matters of public health and safety, as in the [2019 novel] coronavirus epidemic.”
Duterte spokesperson Salvador Panel said in February 12 that the Philippines’ decision to dissolve a military pact with the U.S. is actually a “move in the right direction”.
According to Panelo, this will end the Philippines being a “parasite” of another country in protecting the country’s independence and sovereignty.
Panelo said it was about time for the country to stand on its own and strengthen its defense capabilities.
“From our point of view, however, the decision to terminate the VFA is a move in the right direction that should have been done a long time ago,” Panelo said in statement. “We must stand on our own and put a stop to being a parasite to another country in protecting our independence and sovereignty,” he added.
Panelo also cautioned that the country’s reliance on another nation for its own defenses against enemies of the state would “ultimately weaken and stagnate our defense mechanisms.”