President Rodrigo Duterte might also terminate the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the United States based on his “body language,” the Palace said Thursday.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the President wants the country to strengthen its own defense capabilities after the commander-in-chief terminated the Visiting Forces Agreement.
“To be consistent with his stand, then all treaties must go… by the tone of his body language. Because when we said that we have to stand on our own, not rely [on others]–it means we’ll have to strengthen our own resources,” Panelo told reporters in a press briefing.
This was contrary to his earlier statement that the country’s other military pacts with the US will remain despite the termination of the VFA.
The MDT states that Manila and Washington would come to each other’s defense in case of an attack by a foreign state, while the EDCA allows the US military to maintain barracks and weapons storage structures inside five military camps in the Philippines.
Asked if Manila’s treaties with other countries would also be terminated, Panelo said: “Ah, I don’t know that portion but what I’m saying… I’m not saying that all treaties must go. I’m just reading the body language of the President.”
The Palace official, however, clarified that he has not yet asked the President if the other treaties, aside from the VFA, would be terminated.
Panelo agreed with some lawmakers and experts that ending the VFA is as good as terminating the MDT and the EDCA, but he said he’s not sure if the Philippines would have to send the US another termination notice to make that happen.
“I understand the Senate is going to review these two treaties...So we’ll wait for their recommendation,” Panelo said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday said military exercises with American forces scheduled for this year will continue despite the termination of the VFA.
“With the formal serving of the notice of termination of the VFA, this year’s planned military exercises with the Americans shall proceed as scheduled within the 180 days that the VFA remains in force,” Lorenzana said in a statement sent to reporters.
However, Lorenzana said the United States always has the option to cancel military drills planned for 2020 before the lapse of the 180-day period.
“Once the termination is final, we will cease to have exercises with them,” he added.
Earlier, President Duterte ordered Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to send a formal notification to Washington DC regarding Manila’s decision to revoke the VFA, which was signed in February 1998.
On Tuesday, Locsin announced that the formal termination notice has already been received by the US government.
The VFA’s effectivity will end 180 days from the day the US formally received the formal notice from the Philippines.
The agreement exempts American forces from passport and visa regulations and allows them to use their permits and licenses in the Philippines.
It also gives the US jurisdiction over its troops who committed unlawful acts in the Philippines.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said while the VFA is not equitable, the reasons for its abrogation were “way off the mark.”
Repealing the VFA, he added, was “not the smartest move” of the President.
“The thing is, it is not the smartest move of the President to expose ourselves naked first before looking for other options for cover,” he said.
Lacson said maintenance and repairs of military hardware, mostly air assets provided by the US under the AFP modernization program will also be affected by the VFA’s abrogation.
He welcomed the AFP chief’s statement that the Philippines may push for similar defense treaties with other allied countries like Japan and South Korea, the senator said the reality is that it would not happen overnight.
“It will take a series of back-and-forth negotiations in pursuit of the concerned parties’ self and national interests before going through lengthy deliberations for ratification by the Senate,” he said.
Senator Imee Marcos defended the President’s decision to abrogate the VFA, however, saying he has a free hand in foreign policy.
She also recommended inviting other countries such as Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia to conduct military exercises with the Philippines.
“Let us invite everybody. Let us boost our relations with our neighbors,” she said.
The women’s rights group Garbriela, meanwhile, challenged Duterte to make real the VFA cancellation by caceling this year’s Balikatan joint military exercise with the United States.
“Duterte cannot claim he is serious with the VFA’s termination but allow business as usual with the Balikatan exercises,” said Joms Salvador, secretary-general of Gabriela.