Post-VFA scenario: AFP declares it’s ready for self-reliance
MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday declared it was ready to tread the path of self-reliance that President Rodrigo Duterte wants it to take, issuing a statement that gave assurances about domestic security issues but was notably silent about external security threats mainly from Chinese intrusion into Philippine maritime territory.
The AFP made the declaration as a key military pact with the United States, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), awaits its final breath after Duterte ordered its termination.
“It bears repeating: We can survive; we will; we should…The die is cast, “ AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said in a statement.
Washington earlier this month received Manila’s formal notice of its intent to terminate the VFA, which governed mechanisms for visiting American soldiers and served as foundation for military exercises and humanitarian work by US troops in the Philippines. The termination would take effect after six months, or 180 days.
Duterte ordered the termination of the VFA in apparent retaliation for the cancellation of the US visa of one of his closest political allies, Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, who was also the first enforcer of the President’s bloody war on drugs.
The President went ahead with thrashing the VFA despite advice given by his foreign and security officials to review the agreement instead of junking it.
His officials had acknowledged that regular American presence, sanctioned by the VFA, serves as a deterrent against more aggressive action by China in the West Philippine Sea.
Observers said that China became more aggressive when Philippine senators in 1991 voted against the renewal of the Military Bases Agreement (MBA), which called for the extended presence of US forces in the country.
The aggression was worsened by the Philippine military’s often derailed attempt at modernization which, at the time of the junking of the bases pact, was hobbled by the Asian financial crisis of 1997.
China’s sneaky actions in Panganiban (Mischief) Reef triggered the signing of the VFA with the US in 1998.
“We struggled but survived the period 1991-1998 when the MBA was no longer renewed, until the VFA was signed,” Arevalo said.
With the abrogation of the VFA, he said the Philippine armed forces will “secure our people and defend our country with the relatively and modestly modern AFP.”
“We assure our countrymen that we will again, as our forebears did in their time, valiantly face contemporary threats to national security, terrorism, and other transnational crimes,” Arevalo said.
But the Philippine military is currently one of the weakest in the region, and is in the process of building up a credible defense system in the wake of China’s expansion in the West Philippine Sea.
Aside from the need to defend Philippine maritime territory against Chinese aggression, the Philippine military also has its hands full battling communist insurgents and terrorists.
The urgent need to build a strong and self-reliant armed forces is not reflected in the current national budget, however. A big chunk of it still goes to payroll and pension.
But Arevalo refused to comment on it: “As to the way forward for other branches and agencies of government like increasing the budget for AFP modernization, that is not for us to comment on.”
Edited by TSB
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.