MANILA, Philippines — The fate of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the US remains uncertain as President Rodrigo Duterte wants Washington to explain why China was not required to withdraw its ships during the 2012 Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal standoff.
Duterte said he would only discuss the military pact with Americans if the US can explain in simple terms why Chinese ships were not compelled to leave the shoal, a traditional fishing ground off the province of Zambales. The US brokered the deal, which prompted the previous administration to pull out the Philippines' ships from the area. China did not withdraw its ships, allowing it to gain control of the fishing ground.
"The VFA now is the problem. We have a big problem because America served as the broker (of the agreement) and we withdrew. Why did they not force China to withdraw also? Unless they can explain it to me in a very simple way that can be understood by the entire Philippines, then I can begin to talk about their foreign forces," Duterte said during an interview with religious leader Apollo Quiboloy aired last Tuesday.
"Pero ‘pag hindi, medyo malabo. Malabo, malabo ‘yan. Sobra tayong binabastos ng Amerikano talaga (If not, then it's unlikely. It's really unlikely. The Americans really disrespected us)," he added.
The VFA allows Filipino and American troops to hold joint military exercises in the Philippines to strengthen their capabilities. Last year, Duterte warned that he would terminate the 1998 agreement after the US had canceled the visa of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, a former police chief and a key figure in the president's controversial war on illegal drugs.
Malacañang had claimed that the US Senate resolution linking the Duterte administration to human rights violations, the call of some American lawmakers to release detained opposition senator Leila de Lima, and the US travel ban against individuals behind her detention had also prodded the President to abrogate the pact.
Despite his sharp criticisms against the VFA, Duterte has postponed the termination of the deal twice, deferring its abrogation in June and in November.
Last February, Duterte said the US should "pay" the Philippines if it wants to keep the agreement, saying the pact involves a "shared responsibility." A few months later, the President said the VFA is "up for renegotiation."
Neutral foreign policy
In the same interview, Duterte assailed critics who claim that he is favoring China, which is embroiled in a longstanding row with the Philippines over areas in the West Philippine Sea.
"These people do not know me and they do not really know also foreign policy. I don't know who prodded them to open their mouths about foreign policy," Duterte said.
Duterte, who has distanced himself from the US to pursue what he described as an independent foreign policy, maintained that he won't allow any country to set-up military bases in the Philippines.
"Foreign policy is just being neutral. I am neutral in the sense that I do not favor one country (over) the other nor would I allow any of those countries to be in the Philippines to establish military bases," the president said.
"But America must come clean. He who comes to equity must come with clean hands," he added.
Last February, Duterte claimed that the US is turning Subic into a military base, a move that he said places the Philippines at risk if a conflict erupts. He claimed that American forces have stored several weapons in the Philippines but did not provide specifics.
"The theater of war, if ever it starts, is in (South) China Sea. We insist on being Americans, we should be provided with the arms and armaments that’s capable of at least – that would place us on equal footing with the other countries at war with us because China would really target us. But Americans are not giving anything," Duterte said in a public address last Feb. 15.
Duterte also said he is closer to Russia on a personal level and that he does not know anyone from the US. He recalled asking Russia for firearms after some American lawmakers had opposed the sale of thousands of rifles to the Philippines because of his human rights record. The President claimed that the Russian government supplied the firearms to the Philippines with no strings attached.
President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which will expire 180 days after the notice of termination is sent to the US.
That notice was sent on Tuesday, February 11, 2020, according to Philippine government officials.
Duterte had previously warned the United States that he will terminate the VFA if the cancellation of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa's US visa—believed but not confirmed to have been over the continued detention of Sen. Leila De Lima and the government's "war on drugs"—is not "corrected".
The decision to terminate comes amid a resolution by the Senate recognizing the president's authority to terminate agreements and treaties but also asking him to hold off on the decision while lawmakers conduct a review of the VFA and other agreements with America.
Activist groups have been calling on the government to scrap the deal since 1999, saying the Visiting Forces Agreement favors the US, keeps the Philippine military dependent on assistance and aid, and puts the Philippines at risk from America's enemies.
Main photo: In this May 19, 2018 file photo, Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat and US Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley lead the ceremonial furling of the Balikatan flag during the closing ceremony of the Philippine-US military exercises. The STAR/Boy Santos
The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the US military open the 36th Balikatan Exercise, which features military simulations made possible by the Visiting Forces Agreement.
The Balikatan comes after the termination of the VFA was suspended for a second six-month period and as tensions with China rise over its ships in the West Philippine Sea.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson reminds President Rodrigo Duterte that under the Constitution, a senator also has something to do with international agreements.
The president earlier told Lacson that he has nothing to do with the issue of the Visiting Forces agreement between the Philippines and the United States.
"Even an ordinary citizen of this country who feels embarrassed by his harsh, undiplomatic remarks concerning an existing bilateral agreement is guaranteed under the same Constitution to express his views. Not anyone, even he as President can curtail that basic right," Lacson says.
The US defense department has boostedthe Armed Forces of the Philippines' counter-terrorism capability with new equipment, the US Embassy in Manila says.
The capability upgrade is among the P1.4-billion ($29.3 million) in defense articles recently transferred to the AFP, Acting US Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller tells senior Philippine military officials as he met with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. Tuesday in Manila.
In a statement provided by the US Embassy, Miller stresses the importance of the US-Philippine alliance to national and regional security.
Miller says the defense articles that were turned over last December 2 were transferred to several special mission units of the AFP to support its modernization goals.
The Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) lauded the capability, especially the anti-Improvised Explosive Device equipment, which will form part of force protection noting that in the recent campaign troops have engaged terrorists rigging IEDs in its attacks. — The STAR/Roel Pareño
"We welcome the Government of the Philippines’ November 11 decision to suspend termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) for another six months," the US Embassy says in a statement to mdia.
"The U.S.-Philippines alliance remains vital to our robust, deep-rooted bilateral relationship. The United States will continue to partner closely with the Philippines to strengthen our mutual security ties."
The Philippines extends the suspension of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States for another six months.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. says President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to extend the VFA abrogation “to enable us to find a more enhanced, mutually beneficial, mutually agreeable, and more effective and lasting arrangement on how to move forward in our mutual defense.”
— DFA Philippines (@DFAPHL) November 11, 2020
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