The Philippines scrap security agreement with U.S.


Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has terminated the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the U.S.

The Philippines announced its decision Tuesday – a move the U.S. embassy in the Philippines called a “serious step” – touching off a six-month countdown to the end of the deal.

Duterte’s disdain for the Philippines’ close ties with the U.S. is well-known, He sees the ties as subservience to an abusive and hypocritical former colonial ruler. Duterte is determined to build a strong relationship with China.

Duterte’s spokesperson Salvador Panelo said U.S. disagreement with the president’s move was motivated by its own strategic interests, and that it was time for the Philippines to be militarily independent.

“Reliance on another country for our own defenses against the enemies of the state will ultimately weaken and stagnate our defense mechanisms,” Panelo said in a statement. “We must stand on our own and put a stop to being a parasite to another country in protecting our independence and sovereignty.”

The VFA was signed in 1998. It is the legal framework allowing thousands of rotating U.S. troops, ships, and aircraft to visit the Philippines and train soldiers, conduct 300 joint exercises a year. It specifies which country will have jurisdiction over the U.S. soldiers who may be accused of crimes while in the Philippines, a sensitive issue in the former U.S. colony.

Some Philippines lawmakers hope it can be saved in the 180 days before the termination takes effect.

They worry that without it, two other U.S. military agreements will be irrelevant.

Duterte has threatened since his 2016 election to put an end to the Filipino-U.S. alliance. He specifically mentioned a desire to do away with the VFA again in January, after the US cancelled the travel visa of senator and former national police chief Ronald Dela Rosa. “I’m warning you … if you won’t do the correction on this, I will terminate” the agreement,” he said, adding, “I’ll end that son of a b—-.”

The VFA is divisive in the Philippines, with leftist and nationalist critics arguing it guarantees preferential treatment for U.S. service members accused of crimes.

Its rightist defenders say ending the agreement would compromise the country’s ability to defend itself and undermine the U.S. goal of containing China.

After the U.S. embassy in Manila received notice of the Philippines’ desire to end the VFA —one of three defense agreements, among which are also the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, that collectively serve as a cornerstone for the alliance — it called the move a “serious step with significant implications for the U.S.-Philippines alliance.”

A separate defense pact subsequently signed in 2014, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, allows the extended stay of U.S. forces and authorizes them to build and maintain barracks and warehouses and store defense equipment and weapons inside five designated Philippine military camps.

A Filipino senator and former national police chief, Panfilo Lacson, said terminating the treaty would reduce the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty “to a mere paper treaty as far as the U.S. is concerned.”

Military backs the scrap

The Philippine military on Wednesday stood by the president’s decision to scrap the security agreement with the U.S., saying the country could now develop its own defense capabilities and alliances, and would do fine without it.

The military chief backed President Rodrigo Duterte’s termination of the 1998 VFA and said doing so would allow the Philippines to expand its modernization program and its engagement with Australia and Japan – both U.S. allies.

Armed forces commander, General Felimon Santos, said planes and ships were being procured from countries other than the U.S., such as South Korea, while Filipinos were now “doing the leg work” on intelligence gathering on Islamist extremists.

“You know these sentiments of soldiers, we are all high morale,” he told reporters. “It will make us more eager to build up our own capabilities.”

“Wrong direction”

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is a little concerned about the Philippines’ decision.

Esper on Tuesday said the decision was a move in the wrong direction at a time when Washington and its Asian allies were trying to press China.

Esper said the decision was “unfortunate,” while admitting he was still processing the news.

“I do think it would be a move in the wrong direction as we both, bilaterally with the Philippines and collectively with a number of other partners and allies in the region, are trying to say to the Chinese, ‘You must obey the international rules of order. You must obey, you know, abide by international norms,” he said, according to USNI News.

“As we try and bolster our presence and compete with [China] in this era of great power competition, I think it’s a move in the wrong direction for the longstanding relationship we’ve had with the Philippines for their strategic location, the ties between our peoples, our countries.”

“Right direction”

Duterte’s spokesperson Panelo rejected that, calling it “a move in the right direction that should have been done a long time ago.”

Trump shrugs off

Mark Esper’s boss, U.S. President Donald Trump thinks the Philippines moves is no big deal.

When asked about the decision Wednesday, Trump said he really doesn’t mind, not least of all because it will likely save the U.S. money down the road.

The U.S. president acknowledged his view likely differs from other officials.

Trump dismissed concerns about the Philippines decision canceling a major military accord.

Trump has also put pressure on other East Asian alliances, namely those with Japan and South Korea, through repeated requests for allies to pay more for U.S. security assurances.

U.S. admiral’s hope

The move by the Philippines potentially “challenged” future U.S. operations with Filipino forces, a U.S. admiral said on Thursday.

Adm. Philip S. Davidson, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, told a foreign policy think-tank in Sydney that he hoped the U.S. State Department would be able to negotiate a solution that would keep the VFA in place.

“It’s a 180-day notice, so we have some time for diplomatic efforts to be pursued here,” Davidson said. “I hope we can get to a successful outcome.”

Davidson said the U.S. did not have such agreements with every country in the region.

Davidson said countries in the Indo-Pacific region are beginning to take a stand against Chinese attempts to manipulate them through debt-trap diplomacy, coercion and bullying.

All nations in the region were involved in a strategic competition “between a Beijing-centric order and a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said.

“Through excessive territorial claims, debt-trap diplomacy, violations of international agreements, theft of intellectual property, military intimidation and outright corruption, the Communist Party of China seeks to control the flow of trade, finance, communications, politics and a way of life throughout the Indo-Pacific,” Davison said.

The U.S. admiral did not mention the World Bank-IMF debt trap.

China has scoffed at what it calls U.S. interference in the Asia-Pacific region and has denied linking aid to politics.




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