Ex-general says VFA death means free pass for China to do what it wants in West PH Sea
MANILA, Philippines—Removing the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) from the equation would embolden China to become more aggressive in its maritime claims in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), according to a retired general.
Edilberto Adan, also former executive director of the VFA Commission, told INQUIRER.net that the United States’ engagement with the Philippine armed forces had become a deterrent against China gobbling up more Philippine territory in the WPS.
Take the VFA away and it virtually gives China a free pass to do what it wants in the WPS. The absence of the agreement would make it difficult for the US to preposition weapons and other materiel in the Philippines to thwart Chinese intrusions or a more malevolent action by Beijing, Adan said.
The Philippine government, upon instruction by President Rodrigo Duterte, sent notice to terminate the VFA to the US government last Feb. 11. It would 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 scrapping it.
The VFA governs the mechanism for visiting American soldiers and serves as the foundation for military exercises and humanitarian work.
Chinese militia vessels forming a swarm in Philippine -occupied areas in the Kalayaan Island Group were likely to be emboldened and be more aggressive, too, without the VFA, said Adan.
He said China’s intent in the WPS was very clear—it wants to grab all of the area there, including Pag-asa Island.
“They want to take over. They claim it’s theirs with the nine-dash line,” he said on Monday.
The Western Command said it has monitored 136 Chinese vessels near the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa (Thitu) Island between Jan. 1 and Feb. 25.
The vessels have been operating in large numbers since December 2018, around the same time that the Philippines started building a beaching ramp and sheltered port on the island.
The Department of National Defense (DND), in a report to Congress in 2019, acknowledged that these vessels may be part of China’s maritime militia, which positions China’s naval force in civilian disguise in the West Philippine Sea without provoking a conventional military response.
“China has been utilizing fishing vessels to discreetly conduct surveillance, search and rescue operations, as well as provide assistance to law enforcement agencies,” the DND wrote.
Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio also said he believed that Chinese will be more emboldened with the scrapping of the VFA.
He also raised the possibility that it’s not just Chinese maritime militia that would be frequenting the country’s territorial waters.
“Soon, their warships might also loiter there. These acts violate our sovereignty,” he said.