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Top envoy says US committed to building up PH military despite trashing of VFA

/ 02:57 PM May 13, 2020

MANILA, Philippines—Despite the Duterte administration’s trashing of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA)with the United States, the country’s oldest security ally remained committed to help the Philippine military become a modern fighting force, Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Romualdez said on Wednesday (May 13).

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“In spite of the VFA being about to be terminated on Aug. 9, I think the United States is very much committed to helping us in terms of our modernization program,” Romualdez said at Laging Handa press briefing.

“They would really like to see us get as much as possible equipment from the US for interoperability in terms of our MDT,” he said referring to the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and US.

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The Philippine government, upon order by President Rodrigo Duterte, officially sent notice to terminate the VFA to the US government last Feb. 11. Duterte had been ranting against the United States since he joined the presidential race in 2016 and right after assuming office. The termination would take effect in 180 days or six months.

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

Observers said that the VFA gives substance to commitments in the 1951 MDT, which binds the Philippines and US to come to each other’s aid if either comes under attack.

But Romualdez said that despite the termination of the VFA, there are still other ways to continue defense cooperation between the two countries.

“There’s no stopping these programs that we have,” he said.

Black Hawk helicopters

Romualdez, in the same briefing, said Black Hawk helicopters purchased for the Philippine Air Force (PAF) would soon be delivered. While the helicopters were ordered from Lockheed Martin, an American company, the helicopters ordered by the PAF would be built by Poland’s PZL Mielec, Lockheed’s biggest production facility outside the US.

“We’ve been waiting long for the Black Hawk helicopters,” said Romualdez in Filipino. “Our Air Force has been waiting for these helicopters. They are one of the best in the world right now,” he said.

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He said he knew that the deal has been approved by Duterte at least one year ago.

“But the delivery is coming only now. It takes time to get manufactured, of course,” he added.

The US State Department has also recently approved the possible sale of six units of Bell AH-1Z Viper and six units of Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters to the Philippines.

The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said the potential sale of Viper and related equipment carries a price tag of $450 million (around P22 billion), while the Apache AH-64E sales package costs around $1.5 billion (around P76 billion). These packages are not final, and may be adjusted upon the request of the Philippine government.

The offers came despite the Philippine Air Force’s selection of T129 ATAK helicopters of the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) for its attack helicopter acquisition program. But the supplier is currently obtaining export license from the US for its subsystems due to Washington’s sanctions on Ankara after it purchased weapons from Russia.

Edited by TSB
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TAGS: ambassador, Black Hawk helicopters, cooperation, Diplomacy, Military, modernization, Security, termination, VFA, Visiting Forces Agreement
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