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US, PH eye continued military ties after VFA

President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to end the 21-year long Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States is final but both sides will work out “something else” to continue military-to-military relations, according to the country’s ambassador to Washington.

At a news conference with the US-Philippine Society on Tuesday, Philippine Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez said there have been no overtures from Washington to renegotiate the terms of the VFA, but added it was too early to say.

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“I think ‘save the VFA’ is not the word we use; it’s how we move forward from this,” said Romualdez.

“When the President ordered the termination of the VFA, we took that to mean that is his final decision … So we will all abide by it of course. We will just find ways to be able to continue our relationship,” he added.

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He expressed optimism that the two long-time allies would eventually arrive at a new military agreement.

The VFA was ratified in 1999, eight years after the US military bases closed in 1991, to once more allow large-scale US military presence in the country.

“I’m sure there will be something else that we’ll be able to work out between our militaries,” Romualdez said.

On the President’s orders, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. served the termination notice to the US Embassy in Manila last Feb. 11, starting the 180-day countdown to official termination.

“As of now I have not heard of any moves [to renegotiate]. But this is very early for us to make any comment for now. The termination was just handed last week. We will wait and see what their reaction and what the US wants to do,” Romualdez said.

He said the militaries of both sides would be the ones discussing “if there’s a renegotiation, which I think is not what we will call it. It’s more like what we are going to do from here.”

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima on Tuesday laughed off Malacañang’s claim that President Rodrigo Duterte’s unilateral decision to terminate the VFA was a principled stand to foster independent foreign policy.

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“Duterte’s move is dictated by his desire to ingratiate himself with China. He delivered the decapitated head of the VFA to China on a silver platter as part of his strategic vision of the Philippines’ pivot to China,” De Lima said.

“[His] vision is to transform the Philippines into a Chinese province and outpost along the first island chain towards the Pacific,” she claimed.

De Lima, the President’s fiercest critic, said Duterte had always planned to cut ties with the United States all along.

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. wants the country’s soldiers to look at the bright side of things with respect to the termination of the VFA.

“I want everybody to know that it will not affect us, instead, it will make us self-reliant,” Santos said.

He disclosed that he told lawmakers “that with the termination of the VFA, we really need their support to fill in the gaps.”

Earlier, Santos said about half of the more than 300 joint activities between the AFP and the US military would be affected with the abrogation of the VFA.

Also, military officers in Mindanao have expressed concern over the possible loss of US support for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities against Islamic State militants still lurking in the region.

He admitted that ending the pact “will create some gaps” in the country’s defense capability.

Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa said Tuesday he would not support the plan of other senators to question before the Supreme Court the President’s termination of the VFA without the Senate’s concurrence.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Minority Leader Franklin Drilon plan to file the petition, on the ground that since Senate concurrence is needed before a treaty could take effect, so too must its concurrence be secured before it could be terminated.

Dela Rosa believes there is no need to interpret the Constitution on this matter.

Sen. Joel Villanueva said he would back Sotto’s petition before the Supreme Court.

Villanueva said it was clear to him that if the Senate is needed for an agreement to take effect, then it should be needed as well when the deal is being ended.—With a report from Leila B. Salaverria

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TAGS: Felimon Santos Jr., Jose Manuel Romualdez, PH-US Relations, Rodrigo Duterte, VFA, Visiting Forces Agreement
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