No new defense deal  with US, says Palace
Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez has been quoted as saying that Manila and Washington are finding ways to come up with an agreement similar to the VFA, which was terminated by President Duterte due to what he described as “disrespectful” acts of some American officials.
Office of Ambassador Romualdez
No new defense deal with US, says Palace
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - March 2, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Duterte administration is not seeking a new deal that could replace the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, Malacañang said yesterday, even as it gave assurance that existing defense pacts with other countries would not be touched unless there are “compelling reasons” to do so.

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez has been quoted as saying that Manila and Washington are finding ways to come up with an agreement similar to the VFA, which was terminated by President Duterte due to what he described as “disrespectful” acts of some American officials.

Military agreements involving Japan and Australia may be used as templates for the new pact with the US, the envoy was quoted by news reports as saying.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, however, said the talks about a possible new agreement with the US are not sanctioned by Duterte.

“Actually, I was talking to Ambassador Romualdez. He denied it. It’s like he was saying that they are studying other agreements, whether they are disadvantageous or advantageous to the country,” Panelo said in a radio interview.

“Wala, walang basbas ni Presidente. Initiative siguro yun ng counterparts ni Ambassador Romualdez. Siyempre, sila ang apektado, kaya sila ang mag-i-initiate ng mga magandang panukala (The talks were not sanctioned by the President. Perhaps, it was an initiative of the counterparts of Ambassador Romualdez. Of course, they are the ones affected, so they would initiate good proposals),” he added.

Duterte, who has been accused of human rights violations by some American senators, is determined to scrap the VFA, according to Panelo.

“Even assuming it’s true, these are just recommendations to the President. The President’s position remains unchanged. He still wants to scrap the VFA. He wants us to be self-reliant. That’s his main point,” the Palace spokesman said.

Panelo had previously said the President has four reasons for terminating the VFA, which allows Filipino and American forces to conduct joint military drills in the Philippines: the approval of a US Senate resolution condemning the alleged human rights violations in the Philippines; the call of some American senators to release detained opposition Sen. Leila de Lima; the US travel ban against people behind the arrest and detention of De Lima, and the cancellation of the US visa of former police chief Sen. Ronald dela Rosa.

Panelo also denied that the US-Japanese Status of Forces Agreement and the Philippines-Australia Status of Visiting Forces Agreement would be used as references for a new agreement with the US.

“What (Romualdez) was saying was the agreements involving Japan and Australia are good and they can serve as bases in the future, but the President said he does not want (a new deal with the US),” he said.

Other military deals

Existing military agreements with other countries would not be terminated unless there are “compelling reasons” to do so, according to the Palace spokesman.

He said interference with Philippine sovereignty could be one of the reasons that would prod Duterte to drop an agreement with another country.

“Now, if you ask, how about the pending military agreements with other countries? They would continue because there is no reason for the President to terminate that for now,” Panelo said.

“The VFA was terminated because (Duterte) does not want, as a matter of principle, interference with or attacks against our sovereignty... It has been disadvantageous to us, plus the fact that our country believes we have to stand on our own as a country. We can’t always rely on other countries for our defense,” he added.

The President has no reason to scrap military agreements with other countries for now, according to Panelo, although he floated the possibility that the Philippines may no longer renew the deals once they expire.

“But eventually, kasi, meron namang expiry period ’yan, eventually siguro, hindi na ire-renew ’yan. O kaya naman, kung meron na namang dahilan si Presidente (they have expiry periods. Eventually, perhaps, they would no longer be renewed. Or maybe, if the President would have another reason),” the Palace spokesman said.

Asked what deal would no longer be renewed, Panelo reiterated that existing military agreements like those with Australia and Japan would not be touched by the President “unless there is a reason compelling him to do so.”

Pressed about the status of Philippines-US military pacts Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), Panelo replied: “Sa ngayon, nandiyan pa ’yon. Pero eventually, papunta na tayo roon (For now, they are still there. But we will get there).”

“In other words, since the VFA strengthens the two agreements... if you remove it, that means the two deals would weaken. Then, you will get there. If the basis of the President is to be self-reliant, all the logical consequences will come,” he said.

The Philippines and the US signed the MDT in 1951 to strengthen their defense capabilities and to prepare themselves for possible external attacks. The EDCA, pn the other hand, was signed in 2014 and provides US forces access to some Philippine military bases.

Panelo said Duterte does not need to order the security cluster to review the MDT and the EDCA.

“These are always reviewed by concerned agencies. They don’t have to be told by the President,” Panelo added.

JOSE MANUEL “BABE” ROMUALDEZ VFA
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