‘Philippines cannot forever rely on the US’

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Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo on Thursday said the Philippines cannot forever rely on the protection of the US. PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER

The Philippines cannot forever rely on the protection of the US, the Malacanang Presidential Palace said on Thursday as it again defended the country’s move to terminate a key military agreement with the global superpower.

Upon President Rodrigo Duterte’s order, the Department of Foreign Affairs formally sent the notice to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a move the US Embassy in Manila described as “a serious step with significant implications for the US-Philippines alliance”.

“As the president says, if we keep on relying on the US for our defence, our defences will always remain stagnant or weak. We have to strengthen our defence.

“We cannot be forever relying on the Americans for our defences,” Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said in an interview on the ABS-CBN News channel.

The US government has 180 days from the day of receipt to renegotiate the Philippines’ decision to terminate the VFA, a defence pact signed in 1998 that created a legal framework for the presence of US troops in the Philippines and for organising joint military exercises.

On Wednesday, the Palace official also said that the Philippines’ decision to dissolve the military pact is a “move in the right direction” and will stop the country from being a “parasite” to another country in terms of protecting its independence and sovereignty.

This was after US Defence Secretary Mark Esper declared that nullifying the VFA was “unfortunate” and “a move in the wrong direction”.

“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 a 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 said.

US President Donald Trump has already addressed the issue, saying that he is “fine” with Duterte’s directive and will save the Americans a lot of money.

“If they would like to do that, that’s fine, we’ll save a lot of money,” Trump said.

Meanwhile, Admiral Philip Davidson, the senior US military authority in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, on Thursday warned that terminating the VFA would hamper counter-terrorism efforts in Duterte’s home island of Mindanao – where separatist and Islamist violence has killed some 100,000 people.

Davidson expressed his hopes that Duterte would reconsider his decision.

Manila has given a “180-day notice, so we have some time for diplomatic efforts. I hope we can get to a successful outcome,” he told a foreign policy think-tank at the Lowy Institute in Sydney.

“Our ability to help the Philippines in their counter-violent extremist fight in the south, our ability to train and operate within the Philippines and with Philippines armed forces would be challenged without that visiting forces agreement,” he said.

Since being elected president in 2016, Duterte has repeatedly alluded to severing ties with the US while pursuing closer ties with the country’s non-traditional allies, Russia and China.

Duterte has ordered the termination of the military pact after the US cancelled the visa of his long-time confidant Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, who has also led his bloody war on drugs during his term as national police chief.