“Well, to be consistent with his stand, then all treaties must go… by the tone of his body language. Because if you say we have to stand on our own, not rely… this means we’ll have to strengthen our own resources, we don’t need other countries,” Panelo said in English and Filipino.
Pcoo.gov.ph
‘MDT, EDCA may also be scrapped’
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - February 14, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Based on his “body language,” President Duterte may also push for the scrapping of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States after terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said yesterday.

“Well, to be consistent with his stand, then all treaties must go… by the tone of his body language. Because if you say we have to stand on our own, not rely… this means we’ll have to strengthen our own resources, we don’t need other countries,” Panelo said in English and Filipino.

“I’m not saying that all treaties must go. I’m just reading the body language of the President, that will be logical if... the premise is ‘we have to strengthen ourselves,’ that means you will not be relying on any country for your defenses,” he said.

Malacañang’s declaration came after President Donald Trump said in an interview that the VFA termination is “fine” with the US, and that he should even be thankful because it would save for his country a “lot of money.”

When pressed if all other defense treaties with other allies would be junked, Panelo stressed only the MDT and the EDCA might be terminated.

But Panelo said the Palace will also wait for the outcome of the review of the Senate on the two other agreements as well as on the impact of the abrogation of VFA.  

Despite the attempt of the Senate and other ranking government officials to convince Duterte to rethink the termination of VFA, he proceeded with it in the belief that the agreement violated the Philippines’ sovereignty.

Panelo said efforts from the side of the Trump administration to save the VFA were futile since the President had already decided on the matter after making his own thorough review.

The Palace’s move, Panelo said, would be anchored on the President’s call that it is time for the Philippines to boost its defense capabilities on its own, with least foreign assistance.

According to Panelo. the Chief Executive was appalled by the show of disrespect by some US senators who called for the release of Sen. Leila de Lima and for the banning from the US of Philippine officials supposedly behind De Lima’s prosecution and detention.

When asked about the Philippines’ alliance with Australia, which is strengthened by the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement, Panelo said there is no reason to disengage from the country’s defense arrangement with Canberra.

“Well, the existing ones will be there because there is no reason to terminate that. You must remember that there is a reason for the President to do that (VFA scrapping), and we have already elaborated on that,” he said.

“For one, the President feels that the US, insofar as the Senate is concerned – the US Senate, as well as the executive department, has assaulted our sovereignty. One, they demanded the release of detained Senator De Lima which to our mind is not only a disrespect to our judicial system but an assault on our sovereignty. They cannot be interfering in our internal affairs,” Panelo added.

“There is no changing Duterte’s mind on the abrogation of the VFA. As far as the President is concerned, his position is unchanged,” he said.

 Joint drills to continue

With six months remaining before the abrogation of the VFA takes effect, the Philippines and the US will push through with joint exercises unless Washington opts to discontinue them, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

“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.

“However, our American counterparts may opt to discontinue the scheduled exercises before the 180 days are up,” he said.

“Once the termination is final, we will cease to have exercises with them,” the defense chief said.

Meanwhile, a senior military strategist of the Armed Forces of the Philippines said that with the termination of the VFA, the AFP and the US IndoPacific Command (INDOPACOM) will always find a way to sustain relations.

He said it is in the interest of the US to sustain its security alliance with the Philippines even without the VFA.

“The VFA is not the total sum of Phl-US relations. The termination is just a short-term hiccup brought about by the current political dynamics both here and in the US,” the official, who declined to be named, said.

“The AFP and our counterparts are professional enough to understand that while we follow policy based on political directives, we also understand that many of these policies are short term and may change as fast as the leaders and administration of each country will change,” he said.

While admitting that members of the armed services are divided on the VFA termination issue, the AFP – as a professional organization – will soldier on and abide by the policy decisions of the President, he said.

“The bedrock of our defense and security relations with the US is the MDT and it still stands. The mechanism for the implementation of the MDT, which is the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) still exists and is functioning,” he said.

Another official said the VFA is the enabler of the MDT, and that without the VFA, the relevance of other existing agreements will no longer be effective. 

Legislative review

A ranking lawmaker, meanwhile, is seeking a legislative review of the national security program of government following the abrogation of the VFA.

Muntinlupa City Rep. Ruffy Biazon, vice chairman of the House committee on national defense and security, said there is a need to prepare for possible repercussions of the VFA termination on the country’s national defense.

“The 180-day period prior to the effectivity of the termination should be used for a national security review by the legislative branch to determine the measures needed to fill the gap. The legislative oversight committee on VFA, as well as the committee on national defense and security, should convene to discuss this new direction that our country is headed to,” he proposed.

Biazon explained that there will be “security gaps” resulting from the “disengagement of the Philippines from an agreement with the United States.”

He said this gives the national government the burden to “enhance our military and defense capability, our disaster response and modernization of the Armed Forces.”

“It should now be a matter of priority for the government to enter into transition mode, to prepare for the security gaps,” he lamented.

“There may be a need for the Philippines to revise its defense and security strategies and plans to determine the appropriate adjustments in terms of deployment of military assets, appropriation of resources, engagement with foreign counterparts and regional military alliances,” the lawmaker argued.

Biazon believes the country’s foreign relations strategy “should also be tweaked to enable the Philippines to adapt to the after-effects of this new configuration in the security setup in our region of the world.”

The lawmaker said the abrogation of the VFA should be factored in the crafting of the budget program for next year.

“The proposed budget should include appropriations that will support the mitigation measures that need to be implemented to cushion the sudden and unexpected security gap resulting from the termination of the defense and security agreement with the United States,” he added.

Meanwhile, militant lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc warned the administration against entering into a new military agreement with another country, particularly China.

While the group welcomed the “long overdue” termination of the VFA, it said the development should not be used by the administration as an excuse to forge a similar agreement with China.

“However, we also caution, even warn, the Duterte administration of not using the VFA termination as an excuse to kowtow even more to yet another imperialist master like China. Doing so will not be in the right direction but will only further our country’s insecurity,” Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate stressed.

The looming termination of the VFA should not be used as entry point for negotiations with new military agreements with any other foreign power, specifically with China or Japan, as such “would keep the country mendicant to military aid and hand-me-down equipment,” Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas said.

“The lessons from the years of US-Philippines military relations should make this clear: joint exercises, unli-entry of foreign troops and pre-positioning of military assets have not improved our external defense capabilities,” she added. –  Edu Punay, Jaime Laude

A ranking lawmaker, meanwhile, is seeking a legislative review of the national security program of government following the abrogation of the VFA.

Muntinlupa City Rep. Ruffy Biazon, vice chairman of the House committee on national defense and security, said there is a need to prepare for possible repercussions of the VFA termination on the country’s national defense.

“The 180-day period prior to the effectivity of the termination should be used for a national security review by the legislative branch to determine the measures needed to fill the gap. The legislative oversight committee on VFA, as well as the committee on national defense and security, should convene to discuss this new direction that our country is headed to,” he proposed.

Biazon explained that there will be “security gaps” resulting from the “disengagement of the Philippines from an agreement with the United States.”

He said this gives the national government the burden to “enhance our military and defense capability, our disaster response and modernization of the Armed Forces.”

“It should now be a matter of priority for the government to enter into transition mode, to prepare for the security gaps,” he lamented.

“There may be a need for the Philippines to revise its defense and security strategies and plans to determine the appropriate adjustments in terms of deployment of military assets, appropriation of resources, engagement with foreign counterparts and regional military alliances,” the lawmaker argued.

Biazon believes the country’s foreign relations strategy “should also be tweaked to enable the Philippines to adapt to the after-effects of this new configuration in the security setup in our region of the world.”

The lawmaker said the abrogation of the VFA should be factored in the crafting of the budget program for next year.

“The proposed budget should include appropriations that will support the mitigation measures that need to be implemented to cushion the sudden and unexpected security gap resulting from the termination of the defense and security agreement with the United States,” he added.

Meanwhile, militant lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc warned the administration against entering into a new military agreement with another country, particularly China.

While the group welcomed the “long overdue” termination of the VFA, it said the development should not be used by the administration as an excuse to forge a similar agreement with China.

“However, we also caution, even warn, the Duterte administration of not using the VFA termination as an excuse to kowtow even more to yet another imperialist master like China. Doing so will not be in the right direction but will only further our country’s insecurity,” Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate stressed.

The looming termination of the VFA should not be used as entry point for negotiations with new military agreements with any other foreign power, specifically with China or Japan, as such “would keep the country mendicant to military aid and hand-me-down equipment,” Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas said.

“The lessons from the years of US-Philippines military relations should make this clear: joint exercises, unli-entry of foreign troops and pre-positioning of military assets have not improved our external defense capabilities,” she added. –  Edu Punay, Jaime Laude

EDCA SALVADOR PANELO VFA
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