In this Nov. 12, 2017 photo, President Rodrigo Duterte and his partner Honeylet welcome US President Donald Trump prior to the start of the gala dinner hosted by the Philippines for the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states and dialogue partners at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.
Presidential Photo/Ace Morandante, file
Palace dismisses Trump's nonchalance on VFA termination
Patricia Lourdes Viray ( - February 13, 2020 - 5:11pm

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang appears to doubt the sincerity of US President Donald Trump over his remarks on the Philippines' move to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries.

Trump said he does not really mind the Philippines ending the defense pact with the US, contradicting the statement of US Defense Secretary Mark Esper that this is a "move in the wrong direction" for the country.

"It remains to be seen... Let's see how his (Trump) words will match the actions of the US government," presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a televised press briefing Thursday.

While Trump noted that the Philippines and the US has a "very good relationship" after American troops helped in the battle in Marawi City in 2017, the US president said ending the defense deal was just fine for him.

"But I — I really don’t mind. If they would like to do that, that’s fine. We’ll save a lot of money. You know, my views are different than other people. I view it as, 'Thank you very much. We save a lot of money," Trump said.

In response to Trump's remarks, Panelo said: "Then, he's welcome."

"Maybe he (Trump) agrees with the position of the president (Duterte) that it is time that we stand on our own resources and defend our country from enemies of the state ourselves and not rely on the help of other countries," Panelo said.

'All treaties must go'

Making his own interpretation of Duterte's previous pronouncements, Panelo said the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) might also have to be terminated along with the VFA.

"Well, to be consistent with his stand then all treaties must go by the tone of his body language," Panelo said.

The Malacañang mouthpiece, however, said they will have to wait for the recommendation of the Senate on the MDT and the EDCA.

The Duterte administration, however, did not consider the consider the call of the Senate to reconsider its position on the VFA before sending its notice of termination to the US.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. suggested a vigorous review of the VFA with the US.

The Philippines' top diplomat told the Senate committee on foreign affairs last week that the MDT would just be a piece of paper without the VFA and the EDCA.

"The Mutual Defense Treaty without the VFA and EDCA may be compared to a deflated balloon. For all practical purposes, it becomes an extra large rubber for our nation—far more elastic than it can ever need for its purpose and more suitable as a shower cap than a prophylactic against foreign aggression," Locsin said last week.

Locsin warned of the negative impacts of the abrogation of the VFA to the Philippines' defense and security arrangements, as well as overall bilateral relations with the US.

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