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Palace says VFA termination ‘a move in the right direction’

February 13, 2020 - Thursday 10:02 PM by Jon Joaquin

Article Banner Image STOP BEING A PARASITE. This file photo taken on April 20, 2015 shows Philippine soldiers and a US Army soldier taking their positions during an air assault exercise inside Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija. Malacañang has said the Philippines “must stand on our own and put a stop to being a parasite to another country in protecting our independence and sovereignty.” TED ALJIBE / AFP

DAVAO CITY -- Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo on Tuesday said contrary to US Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s statement, President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) is “a move in the right direction.”

In a statement, Panelo also said the termination of the VFA “should have been done a long time ago,”

Panelo was reacting to Esper’s statement that the withdrawal of the Philippines from the VFA with the United States is “a move in the wrong direction.”

But a day later, US President Donald Trump dismissed Esper’s statement and said Duterte’s decision would save Americans money.

"If they would like to do that, that's fine, we'll save a lot of money," Trump told reporters at the White House, touting his "very good relationship" with Duterte.

Duterte had earlier said he will not entertain any initiative from the US government to salvage the VFA and that he will not to accept any official invitation to visit the United States.

Signed by the two countries in 1998, the VFA created a legal framework for the presence of US troops in the Philippines and for organizing joint military exercises.

Malacañang announced its decision on Tuesday — a move the US embassy in the Philippines called a "serious step" — touching off a six-month countdown to the end of the deal.

Duterte has threatened since his 2016 election to put an end to the Philippine-American alliance, with an eye toward cultivating relationships with Russia or China instead.

President Duterte has threatened since his 2016 election to put an end to the Philippine-American alliance, with an eye toward cultivating relationships with Russia or China instead. SIMEON CELI JR./PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

He specifically mentioned a desire to do away with the VFA again in January, after the US cancelled the travel visa of Senator and former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald dela Rosa.

Strengthening PH defense capabilities
In his statement, Panelo said Esper’s statement is “expected given that the VFA favors the US and its abrogation affects its global strategic defensive positioning.”

“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,” he said.

Panelo said it is about time the country strengthens its defense capabilities.

“Reliance on another country for our own defenses against the enemies of the state will ultimately weaken and stagnate our defense mechanisms. 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.

Panelo said the Philippines’ “studied action” is “consistent and pursuant to our charting an independent foreign policy, with our foreign relations anchored solely on national interest and the general welfare of our people.”

This file photo taken on May 9, 2014 shows Philippine and US Marines taking positions during a beach assault exercise facing the South China Sea in San Antonio, Zambales province. The Philippines told the US on February 11, 2020 it was quitting a pact key to their historical military alliance, which triggers a six-month countdown to the deal's termination. TED ALJIBE / AFP

“As the President says, ‘We are friends to all, enemies to none,’” he added.

Panelo, however, said should any country threaten the Philippines’ territorial integrity and assault its sovereignty, “we will rise by our own resources and valiantly defend our motherland the way our forefathers did during their time.”

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III and Senators Panfilo Lacson and Franklin Drilon filed a resolution on February 3 appealing to the President to reconsider his decision until after the Senate has finished “conducting a review and impact assessment” of the termination of the VFA.

Senator Christopher Lawrence Go said he respects the move by his colleagues. “We are a separate branch of government and it is the right of the senators to express their views. That resolution is only a suggestion,” he said.

Go said he supports and respects the President’s decision, adding if it needs to pass through the Senate, “then we will discuss it.”

“If the law says he can terminate it himself as Chief Executive and as President of the Philippines, then I will respect that. The President, after all, is the chief architect of our foreign policy,” he added.
 

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