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Philippines receives 1st of 2 C-130 planes from US
President Rodrigo Duterte had said in a speech delivered at the inspection of new air assets at the Clark Air Base in Pampanga on Feb. 12 that the US should pay if it wishes to retain the VFA.
STAR/ File

Philippines receives 1st of 2 C-130 planes from US

(The Philippine Star) - February 20, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The US government on Thursday turned over the first of two C-130H Hercules planes to the Philippines under the Foreign Military Financing grant program.

The aircraft, worth P1.54 billion, is capable of a maximum payload of 19,000 kilos, with a flying range of over 1,900 kilometers, the US embassy in Manila said in a statement yesterday.

The 220 Airlift Wing at the Philippine Air Force Brigadier General Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu will own and operate the aircraft, it said.

“The C-130 is a proven aircraft and demonstrated its reach and capability to deliver COVID-19 supplies across the country over the past year. We hope this additional aircraft will continue to be a steady workhorse, or ‘Tamaraw,’ for the Philippine Air Force for years to come,” US embassy chargé d’affaires John Law said.

The delivery of the C-130H Hercules came as the two countries discussed the fate of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which President Duterte unilaterally terminated last year.

The Philippines is by far the largest recipient of US military assistance in the Indo-Pacific region, the US embassy said.

Since 2015, the US has delivered more than P37 billion worth of planes, ships, armored vehicles, small arms and other military equipment to the Philippines, while also training side-by-side with its Filipino allies.

Meanwhile, former House speaker Alan Peter Cayetano urged the public to trust Duterte’s handling of the VFA, saying the President has the best interest of the Philippines at heart when he said the US government must pay for the continuation of the agreement.

“Let’s not judge the President, the way he says it. Actually, many presidents have said the same thing, that if you (US) want to be in the Philippines, what’s in it for us?” Cayetano said in an interview on Wednesday with reporters during the distribution of donations to barangay health workers in General Tinio, Nueva Ecija.

“We need to think about the Filipino people. What sets President Duterte apart is that he points out that the relationship or conflict between China and the US is getting worse,” Cayetano said.

“Let’s be clear. The US, although they place security forces in different parts of the world, they still put their interests first. Same with China. Let’s not say what China is doing, especially at the West Philippine Sea, is for others – it’s for China. So, what we need to think is for the interest of the Philippines,” he said.

President Duterte had said in a speech delivered at the inspection of new air assets at the Clark Air Base in Pampanga on Feb. 12 that the US should pay if it wishes to retain the VFA.

“It’s a shared responsibility but your share of responsibility does not come free because after all, when the war breaks out, we all pay,” he said.

This drew criticism from Vice President Leni Robredo, who likened Duterte’s demand for payment to “extortion.”

Cayetano, however, said the people should expect that any president would place the interest of the country “front and center.”

“All he’s saying is, if the US has interest here and wants their troops trained here… how about the Filipino people? What’s in it for us?” he said.

Duterte had announced the termination of the pact on Feb. 11, 2020 but the decision was deferred months later to give way to negotiations on a new defense arrangement between the Philippines and the US.

Sen. Imee Marcos has defended Duterte’s stand that the Philippines should be better compensated for enhancing the US military defense posture in the Asia-Pacific region.

“The Philippines not only enhances the forward defense perimeter of the United States in the Indo-Pacific region but even subsidizes its utility expenses in our very own bases,” Marcos said in a statement.

“When many Filipinos cannot even pay their water and electricity bills amid this pandemic, how can the Philippines continue subsidizing the utility expenses of American forces?” she said, citing US military benefits in Article 7 under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

She reiterated her call for a thorough review of EDCA, saying it allows the US not only to skirt the country’s constitutional ban on foreign bases but also to avoid paying the annual compensation that was due the Philippine government before they were abolished.

“Even superpowers need allies, and the new American pivot to the Asia-Pacific shows the enhanced role of our region and the Philippines,” the senator said in countering criticisms of Duterte’s demand for better compensation as a form of extortion.

She said she agreed with Duterte that the $3.9 billion in US military assistance to the Philippines from 2001 to 2017 was paltry compared to the $16 billion given to Pakistan in the same period.

She said Washington fears that if the Pakistani government fails, the 150 nuclear warheads it has produced may fall in the hands of the Taliban and could be used against the US.

Without the Philippines, America’s supply chain and security commitments in the region are vulnerable but the country’s hosting of US forces makes it a potential and logical target of adversaries if war breaks out in the region, even if it does not directly involve the Philippines, she said.

“If China attacks Taiwan for its push towards independence, America’s committed response to protect Taiwan will not be as swift, having to come from bases in Japan, South Korea, Guam or Australia,” Marcos said.

She said human rights issues may be used against the Duterte government “to strike a bargain on what should strictly be a security issue.” – Helen Flores, Ric Sapnu, Paolo Romero

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