(FEBRUARY 13, 2020) – Malacañang on Thursday welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump’s remarks which showed a different view from his security and diplomatic officials who were dismayed by the termination of a two-decade-old deal.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the US leader appeared to agree with the decision of the Philippines to revoke the onerous agreement allowing US troops’ presence in the country.
“Then he’s welcome,” Panelo told reporters in a briefing.
“Maybe he agrees with the position of the President that it is time that we stand on our own resources.”
In a report, Trump had said he does not mind if the Philippines cuts the pact with the US because it would save Washington tons of money from the military assistance to a long-time ally.
For this year, the US has allocated about $160 million in security, economic, and social assistance.
Trump’s comments differ from his defense secretary, Mark Esper, who described Manila’s intention to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) as “unfortunate” and a “move in the wrong direction.”
The US embassy in Manila also considered the decision a “serious” matter that could affect US-Philippine bilateral relations for more than 70 years.
The Philippines on Tuesday officially notified the US its intention to terminate the 1998 VFA.
Weeks before the scrapping, Duterte threatened to cancel the treaty in anger after US revoked the visa of a political ally and former national police chief, Senator Ronald de la Rosa.
Dela Rosa said the visa issue was perhaps the last straw in a supposed series of missteps by the US government in trying to interfere with the Philippines’ justice system.
American senators had approved a resolution imposing sanctions on Filipino officials involved in extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs—Duterte’s prime program—and the “wrongful” imprisonment of Senator Leila de Lima.
Panelo said two other military deals with the US, the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, might also be scrapped, based on Duterte’s body language.
“Well to be consistent with his stand, all treaties must go,” he said, although he left it to the Defense Department to discuss what steps to take in order to strengthen the military.
He also clarified a statement by Duterte saying Trump tried to save the treaty.
“I think he was referring to certain initiatives prior to the sending of the notice of termination,” the spokesman said. “There were moves by the officials of the U.S. government to talk to him.”
Military exercises with American troops will still proceed as schedule within the 180 days the VFA is still in play, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
But the U.S. may opt out of it even before the six-month window, which had begun upon receipt of the notice of termination. (Randell Ritumalta/MM)
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