Trump Says Didn't Mind Philippines Decision To End Military Pact With US

Elias Hubbard
February 14, 2020

Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday.

US President Donald Trump dismissed concerns Wednesday about the Philippines canceling its Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, saying the decision would save Americans money.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the termination after Washington reportedly canceled the US visa of Sen. He specifically mentioned a desire to do away with the VFA again in January, after the USA canceled the travel visa of senator and former national police chief Ronald dela Rosa. Duterte had also reacted against Washington's criticism of Manila for human rights abuses in the drug war.

The agreement, in place since 1999, is slated to end 180 days after notification. "Our ability to help the Philippines in their counter-violent extremist fight in the south, our ability to train and operate within the Philippines and with Philippines armed forces would be challenged without that visiting forces agreement", he warned.

Once the termination is final, the Philippines would "cease to have exercises" with the U.S., Lorenzana said. U.S. Indo-Pacific Command did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment, and a spokesman for the III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa, Japan, referred all questions to the embassy. The Pentagon chief said he thinks the Philippines is moving "in the wrong direction".

The VFA termination would effectively do away with the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the USA and the Philippines and render the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries largely hollow, said Gregory Poling, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. That agreement requires the Philippines and the U.S. to extend military support to each other in case either parties is attacked by another country.

Security experts have said that ending the Visiting Forces Agreement could do real damage to the longtime Pacific allies' defense relationship as well as harm USA efforts to deter China in the South China Sea.

The Philippines is locked in a series of maritime territorial disputes with China and military cooperation between the Philippines and the seen as key to containing China and pushing back against its territorial claims. Panfilo M. Lacson, chairman of the Senate national defense and security committee, said Thursday. The president acknowledged his view likely differs from other officials, but he affirmed he has a good relationship with Duterte (who has drawn worldwide criticism for some authoritarian measures) and added that the USA already helped defeat the Islamic State's presence in the country. "Beijing will certainly be happy with this".

US President Donald Trump speaks while meeting with Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington February 12, 2020. "The more we rely on them, the more our position weakens", Panelo said, adding that what Duterte wants to do next "remains to be seen". The U.S. president added he has "very good" relations with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

In a speech late Monday, Duterte said Trump had tried to save the agreement but that he (Duterte) had rejected it.

Balikatan, which translates to "shoulder to shoulder" from Tagalog, took place April 1-12 in locations around the Philippines a year ago.

Photo shows a landing exercise of amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs) during the "Balikatan" exercises between Filipino and American troops in 2015.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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