US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno at the White House on Feb. 12.
AFP
Trump ‘fine’ with VFA termination
Pia Lee Brago (The Philippine Star) - February 14, 2020 - 12:00am

‘Thanks, we’ll save a lot of money’

MANILA, Philippines — United States President Donald Trump said he does not mind the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and even thanked the Philippines for helping his country “save a lot of money.”

Trump’s response to the Duterte administration’s scrapping the VFA was in contrast to the reaction of US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said on Wednesday the termination of the agreement was “unfortunate” and a “move in the wrong direction.”

“I never minded that very much, to be honest,” Trump said in an interview yesterday at the White House, referring to the termination of the VFA.

“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.

He noted that US forces “came in literally and single-handedly” helped the Philippine military end the five-month Marawi siege in 2017. US forces provided the Philippines with technical assistance to end the months-long siege by militants allied with the Middle East-based Islamic State (IS).

“But if you look back – if you go back three years ago, when ISIS was overrunning the Philippines, we came in and, literally, single-handedly were able to save them from vicious attacks on their islands,” he added.

“We helped the Philippines very much. We helped them defeat ISIS,” Trump said.

Despite President Duterte’s trashing the VFA, Trump stressed he has a good relationship with the Philippine leader.

“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.

On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. sent to the US embassy the notice of termination of the VFA, which is considered an enabler of the 1951 Phl-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). In his Tweet, Locsin said Deputy Chief of Mission John Law at the US embassy received the notification on the same day.

The sending of the notice marked the start of the 180-day period to scrap the military agreement that came into force on May 27, 1999, upon ratification by the Philippine Senate.

Sought for comment on Trump’s statement, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said he was not even sure if the US president was serious. “By terminating it (VFA), we showed them that we do not need them. Now the statements of Mr. Trump, we do not know exactly whether he was very serious,” Panelo said.

“You must remember that the VFA and other treaties are there precisely because of the global strategic defensive positioning of the United States. You must remember that the perceived enemies of the US are very near this country, hence they need us. It’s to their advantage if we are with them,” the presidential spokesman said.

Earlier yesterday, Panelo said the Palace respects Trump’s declaration that he is thankful the VFA’s scrapping would save his country a lot of money.

Welcome

“Then, he is welcome. If he said that, how can we be more popish than the pope? Maybe he agrees with the position of the President that it is time that we stand on our own resources and defend our country from enemies of the state by ourselves and not rely on the help of other countries. We weaken ourselves if we keep on being parasites to any of the countries,” he said.

Panelo said the US leader’s response was understandable because the US is at the receiving end of Duterte’s action. “Well, we can understand. Again, as I said, when you do something that is unsatisfactory to the other side,it’s natural for them to say something. We respect that the way they should respect ours,” he said.

In various media interviews, Panelo insisted that VFA is one-sided, as it favored only US military personnel. “You must remember that the VFA agreement is one sided in the sense that the provisions in that agreement are more advantageous to the Americans,” he said.

“Moreover, the President feels that it is about time that we stand on our own. We have to strengthen our own defenses against the enemies of the state, and this is the time for that. In fact, we should have abolished or abrogated this agreement a long time ago,” Panelo said.

He stressed the Philippines will forever be grateful to the Americans for their help in the fight against terror.

While the US soldiers cannot join actual combat, under the VFA, the US can share technical information about terrorist groups and their members.

During the controversial Mamasapano raid, US operatives reportedly provided intelligence information in locating Malaysian terrorist and bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano in Maguindanao on Jan. 25, 2015.

However, 44 members of the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force who took part in the operation were killed when no reinforcement came to pick them up from the area controlled by members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Panelo maintained the Philippines cannot always rely on its allies in protecting its sovereignty.

“You know, as the President says, if we keep on relying on the United States government for our defenses, our defenses will always remain stagnant or weak. We have to strengthen our own resources. We cannot be forever relying on the Americans for our defenses,” he said.

“As far as the President is concerned, we will not rely anymore on any foreign country for our defenses. We will have to strengthen our own resources,” he added.  –  Christina Mendez

DONALD TRUMP MUTUAL DEFENSE TREATY VFA
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