PH prefers self-reliance but open to VFA with other countries — Malacañang

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 10) — With one step closer to the end of its Visiting Forces Agreement  with the United States, it is about time the Philippines relies on its own resources, Malacañang said Tuesday.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo has confirmed that a notice terminating the agreement which is supposed to boost the two countries' military alliance was already sent to the US government. That marks the start of the 180-day period from when the two-decade military pact will be effectively scrapped.

But is the country ready to defend its own territory once this defense pact is scrapped for good? According to Panelo, President Rodrigo Duterte wants the country to “strengthen its own capability” for the meantime.

Meron din namang ibang bansang nag-ooffer, but as the President said, it is about time that we rely on our own resources. We have to strengthen our own capability as a country relative to the defense of our land,” Panelo said during the briefing.

“‘Yan ‘yung pinaka-punto ng Presidente. Mahirap ‘yung we keep on relying. Lalo tayong humihina,” he said.

[Translation: That’s the main point of the President.. It wouldn’t do us any good if we keep on relying. We only become weaker.]

Panelo, who also serves as Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, added that the government can still be open to entering VFAs with other countries based on equality, fairness and mutual benefit.

Citing Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the Presidential Spokesperson said the United Kingdom was one of the countries that offered to strengthen the Philippines’ military capabilities.

“Future agreements will be based on fairness, mutual benefits to those agreeing nations,” Panelo said.

The VFA is a 1998 agreement between longtime allies Manila and Washington on the protocol for American military personnel in the country.

Among its controversial provisions are the lax visa and passport policies for American troops and the authority granted to the US government to retain jurisdiction over military personnel if they commit crimes locally.

Termination of the VFA would reduce the two country's 1952 Mutual Defense Treaty to a mere paper treaty, Senator Panfilo Lacson said. It woud mean no more intelligence information sharing in the fight against domestic and foreign terrorists, US military aid and financing, security from threats in the West Philippine Sea and humanitarian aid in times of disasters, he added.

For his part, Communist Party of the Philippines founder Joma Sison believes that Duterte will remain dependent to the United States military.

"Duterte is beggarly dependent on US military supplies and advice. One telephone call from Trump can fix Duterte. His own pro-US military officers trained in US military forts and organized as assets of the US DIA and CIA will tell him to comply with US orders or else," said Sison.

He added, "The VFA notice of termination takes effect after 180 days. The people cannot be sure that Duterte will not change his mind within that lengthy period."

Duterte first threatened to end the VFA following the revocation of Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa’s tourist visa,evocation of Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa’s tourist visa, which could have been related to alleged extrajudicial killings when he once headed the Philippine National Police.

US Assistant Secretary of State Clarke Cooper previously said communication lines remain open between military forces for coordination and the purchase of arms. However, around 300 joint activities between the US and the Philippines will be affected once the termination takes effect.