Despite 'gaps', AFP chief confident VFA termination 'will not affect' military

Roel Pareño - Philstar.com
Despite 'gaps', AFP chief confident VFA termination 'will not affect' military
Gen. Felimon Santos Jr, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, talks to Zamboanga City journalists after talking to troops of the Western Mindanao Command. With him is Lt.Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Westmincom chief.
The STAR / Roel Pareño

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines chief-of-staff, said Tuesday that the Philippine military can live without the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, which President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to terminate. 

Santos, during his first visit to Zamboanga City, told ground forces that termination of the VFA will not affect the military modernization program and the acquisition of weapons and assets.

"I would like everybody to know this is the decision of the president and I want everybody to know how it will affect us: It will not affect us, instead it will make us self-reliant," he said.

In an interview with journalists after his talk, the AFP chief conceded the termination of the VFA would leave the military with gaps to fill.

The VFA and the Balikatan military exercises it has made possible has provided Filipino troops with training, skills enhancement and technical support he said. That support includes assistance with intelligence and surveillance against terrorists.
Santos said these gaps can be filled with other foreign militaries, including that of Australia, which also holds joint military activities with the Philippines.

The Palace has said Duterte is not in favor of entering into military agreements with other nations, stressing that the president wants the Philippines to develop its own capabilities. 

"We need that. Interoperability with Asian countries like South Korea, which we have already an agreement and we will further the agreement with the [Status of Visiting Forces Agreement] for exercises," Santos said.

"And with our new equipment, I think we could defend our country. We could live without it (VFA). The modernization will push through together with other programs and enhancing our organization," he said.

Joint military exercises may continue until VFA expires

Santos emphasized the long-standing relationship between the Philippine and American militaries will continue.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said joint military activities planned within the 180-day period before the VFA expires will likely continue, although he also said the US military could opt to cancel them. There will no longer be any joint military activities once the VFA lapses, he said.

The military said the planned Balikatan exercise this year with the US military is currently under discussion before the 180 days or 6 months VFA termination period takes effect.

Santos said the AFP and the Department of National Defense will have formal talks with their American counterparts in March to discuss the planned exercises,

Once the 180-day period ends in August, US forces will vacate all stations and facilities they are using inside the Western Mindanao Command headquarters and in Edwin Andrews Air Base.

Acquisitions will go on

The US military has maintained a liaison team inside Westmincom and US government service provider DynCorp provides support services to the US military at EAAB.

Santos said the acquisition of military hardware from US-based companie will not be affected.

"There will be no effect, because we are dealing with the industries (US-based) and off course that is business," Santos said.

He said 10 of the 16 Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk helicopters—an acquisition worth P12 billion—are expected to be delivered to the Philippine Air Force within the year.

"We are expecting 16 or more helicopter units. The relationship will go on," Santos said.

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