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Ex-DND chief Orly Mercado says AFP realizes it needed VFA

/ 10:45 PM February 28, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — There’s a common sentiment among some Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) officers that the Philippine military needed the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, according to a former defense chief.

Orlando Mercado, who was head of the Department of National Defense during the Estrada administration, said he met with the officers last Thursday in the course of a meeting of the advisory board of the military’s Education, Training and Doctrine Command Unit.

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“The military, in our meeting yesterday, truly realizes the need for the VFA,” he said.

Mercado, also a former senator, recalled telling the officers that while the Philippine Senate in 1991 rejected a treaty extending the stay of US military bases in the Philippines, the chamber did not go as far as abrogating the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), the mother of all defense pacts between the Philippines and United States.

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Among the most key provisions of the MDT was one that mandated the Philippines or the United States to come to each other’s aid in case of external attacks on either country.

Mercado, who was at a forum on VFA in Makati City, was one of 12 senators who voted to reject the bases treaty extension.

His narration ran counter to the official stand of the AFP, however.

On Thursday (Feb. 27), the AFP issued a statement declaring it was ready to tread the path of self-reliance in a post-VFA scenario and would survive the absence of US military assistance.

“We can survive; we will; we should,” said AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo in the statement.

The Duterte administration officially sent notice to terminate the VFA to the US government on Feb. 11, upon the orders of President Rodrigo Duterte. It will take effect after 180 days or six months.

Duterte went ahead with his decision and disregarded the advice of his foreign and security officials to review the agreement instead of junk it.

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The VFA governs the mechanism for visiting American soldiers and serves as the foundation for military exercises and humanitarian work.

The termination of the VFA was also likely to remove a platform through which the Philippine and US militaries share intelligence and conduct surveillance.

Mercado said the current situation can be used as an opportunity to redefine the relationship of the two militaries.

“We can turn this bad thing into a good thing…to be able to realistically carve a new relationship with an ally and our only treaty ally,” he said.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, in the same forum, described the VFA termination as “a national tragedy that should be resisted.”

“We therefore appeal to our esteemed institutions such as Congress and the Supreme Court to help us resist this tragedy,” he said.

“We appeal to the conscience of our military whose duty under the Constitution is to defend the integrity of our national territory.”

Edited by TSB
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TAGS: AFP, Military, pact, VFA, Visiting Forces Agreement
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