'Thank you, next': Trump fine with ending defense pact with Philippines
Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) - February 13, 2020 - 8:43am

MANILA, Philippines — Contrary to his Defense chief's earlier remarks, US President Donald Trump admitted that he does not mind the Philippines terminating its Visiting Forces Agreement with the US.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper earlier said the decision of the Philippines to end the defense pact was a "move in the wrong direction."

Trump, however, views this move of President Rodrigo Duterte differently.

"I never minded that very much, to be honest," Trump told reporters Wednesday. 

The transcript of his remarks are uploaded on the official website of the White House.

Noting that the US helped the Philippines in its campaign against ISIS-inspired militants in Marawi City in 2017, Trump said the two countries have a "very good relationship there."

"But I — I really don’t mind.  If they would like to do that, that’s fine.  We’ll save a lot of money," Trump said.

"You know, my views are different than other people.  I view it as, 'Thank you very much.  We save a lot of money,'" he added.

Trump continued to claim that US troops "came in" and "literally, single-handedly" saved the Philippines from the attacks of terrorists in Marawi City almost three years ago.

Good relationship with Duterte

The American president also noted that he has a good relationship with Duterte.

"And my relationship, as you know, is a very good one with their leader.  And we’ll see what happens. They’ll have to tell me that," Trump said.

Earlier this week, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin confirmed that the Philippines had issued its notification to the US about the country's decision to abrogate the VFA.

While US Defense chief Esper considered the Philippines' decision as an "unfortunate" move, Malacañang said terminating the VFA was a "move in the right direction" and should have been done a long time ago.

"Our studied action is consistent and pursuant to our chartering an independent foreign policy, with our foreign relations anchored solely on national interest and the general welfare of our people," presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: February 13, 2020 - 9:44am

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which will expire 180 days after the notice of termination is sent to the US.

That notice was sent on Tuesday, February 11, 2020, according to Philippine government officials.

Duterte had previously warned the United States that he will terminate the VFA if the cancellation of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa's US visa—believed but not confirmed to have been over the continued detention of Sen. Leila De Lima and the government's "war on drugs"—is not "corrected".

The decision to terminate comes amid a resolution by the Senate recognizing the president's authority to terminate agreements and treaties but also asking him to hold off on the decision while lawmakers conduct a review of the VFA and other agreements with America.

Activist groups have been calling on the government to scrap the deal since 1999, saying the Visiting Forces Agreement favors the US, keeps the Philippine military dependent on assistance and aid, and puts the Philippines at risk from America's enemies.

Main photo: In this May 19, 2018 file photo, Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat and US Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley lead the ceremonial furling of the Balikatan flag during the closing ceremony of the Philippine-US military exercises. The STAR/Boy Santos

February 13, 2020 - 9:44am

Military exercises with the US wthin the 180 days from the notice of termination will continue as planned, radio dzMM reports, quoting Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

February 13, 2020 - 8:36am

Activist women's group Gabriela calls for the cancellation of Balikatan joint military exercises planned for 2020 in light of the notice of the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement that the Philippines sent the US on Monday.

"Duterte cannot claim he is serious with the VFA's termination but allow business as usual with the Balikatan exercises," Gabriela, which has long protested against the VFA as well as the continuing presence of American troops in the Philippines, says in a release.

There are more than 300 military exercises and exchanges scheduled between the Philippine and American militaries this year.

February 12, 2020 - 4:34pm

For Malacañang, the decision to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States is "a move in the right direction that should have been done a long time ago."

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said US Defense Secretary Mark Esper's remarks that the withdrawal of the Philippines from the VFA was "a move in the wrong direction" is expected as the defense pact favors Washington.

According to Panelo, relying on another country for defenses against enemies of the would eventually "weaken" and "stagnate" the Philippines' defense capabilities.

"Our studied action is consistent and pursuant to our chartering an independent foreign policy, with our foreign relations anchored solely on national interest and the general welfare of our people," Panelo said in a statement.

February 12, 2020 - 10:57am

Senators are free to bring the issue of VFA termination to the Supreme Court, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra says, pointing out however that although the 1987 Constitution requires Senate concurrence on the ratification of treaties, "there is nothing in the constitution that requires the concurrence of the Senate when it comes to termination of treaties."

He adds that "whether the president should at least consult the Senate is manifestly a political question that the Supreme Court will certainly refuse to resolve." 

February 12, 2020 - 9:48am

The Philippines' termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement is a "move in the wrong direction," US Defense Secretary Mark Esper says in remarks published by the US Department of Defense.

"I do think it would be a move in the wrong direction as — as we both bilaterally with the Philippines and collectively with a number of other partners and allies in the region are trying to say to the Chinese, 'You must obey the international rules of order. You must obey, you know, abide by international norms.'," he says.

"I think it's a move in the wrong direction for — for, again, for the longstanding relationship we've had with the Philippines for their strategic location, the ties between our peoples, our countries." 

He says that the move would affect efforts to "bolster our presence and compete with them (China) in this era of great power competition."

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